Amnesty International finds evidence of possible atrocities in Tigray, Ethiopia

Eritrea Ethiopia Tigray

(Source: PBS, Nick Schifrin) –

The Ethiopian government is allowing journalists into Tigray in part because of international pressure, following reports of atrocities committed by the government and its allies. Nick schifrin reports on the anatomy of an event that Amnesty International calls a possible crime against humanity.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In Axum, Ethiopia, gunshots broke the morning quiet, and didn’t stop until the shooters committed a massacre. Axum is in Northern Ethiopia, inside Tigray, a town of 70,000 residents in 10 square miles. And the soldiers who arrived in November were from neighboring Eritrea, allies of the Ethiopian government.

    They began by taking the high ground Mai Koho hill. A resident filmed black-and-white video of the local Tigrayan militia fighting back.

  • Man:

    As you can see, the young people from Axum, they were given a gun, I don’t know by who, but they’re fighting. It’s very amazing.

  • Jean-Baptiste Gallopin:

    The person describes fighting around the hill of Mai Koho. It’s only a few hundred meters away from the main hotels and the main churches of the city. A crisis response unit was able to geolocate the video and find that it was shot around Mai Koho.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Jean-Baptiste Gallopin is a co-author of an Amnesty International investigation that verified social media videos, scanned satellite images, and interviewed survivors.

    The report reveals what happened next. Eritrean soldiers opened fire and killed hundreds of civilians, this man, a bank teller, killed outside the Ensessa Church. That holy house became an epicenter of death.

  • Jean-Baptiste Gallopin:

    Eritrean soldiers called reinforcement and then proceeded to shoot wantonly at civilians running in the streets, rounding up men and shooting them, but also carrying out house-to-house searches, looking for teenage and adult men to kill.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The clues of their crimes buried outside churches. Next to Arabtu Ensessa Church, and across town next to Abuna Aregawi Church, Amnesty found disturbed earth, evidence of mass graves.

  • Jean-Baptiste Gallopin:

    Witnesses describe the victims of the massacre being buried in mass graves in these churches three to 10 bodies at a time. According to witnesses, hundreds of people were buried in Arabtu Ensessa alone.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In the middle of town, the Brana Hotel was one of Axum’s hot spots. But Amnesty found debris outside. And a video obtained by Human Rights Watch shows heavy damage and looting.

  • Jean-Baptiste Gallopin:

    The massacre was a deliberate intent to attempt to terrorize the population into submission. The indiscriminate shelling and the wanton shooting carried out by the Eritrean and Ethiopian military during the initial offensive on Axum could represent war crimes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Fisseha Tekle was Amnesty report’s co-author.

  • Fisseha Tekle:

    What we have published is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Since Amnesty’s report, journalists and researchers have documented similar attacks in nearby Mahibere Dego and Mekelle. And in late March, Doctors Without Borders said its staffers witnessed Ethiopian soldiers dragging four men off a public bus outside Mekelle and executing them.

  • Berhane Kidanemariam:

    Generally, it’s a horrible situation in Tigray. I just couldn’t tolerate it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Berhane Kidanemariam was Ethiopia’s former deputy ambassador to the U.N. He’s a Tigrayan diplomat who’s represented Ethiopia for decades.

    But, last month, he resigned and said his concerns go beyond his ethnicity. He rejects Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s claims the Ethiopian military is fighting terrorism and separatists, and accused Ahmed of a campaign of genocide against Tigray and a campaign of persecution of his political opponents.

  • Berhane Kidanemariam:

    The war is targeting the young and the general public. He wants to maintain his power. He just want to be a king, you know? They are highly corrupted.

  • Tony Blinken:

    Acts of ethnic cleansing which we have seen in Western Tigray, that has to stop.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Publicly, U.S. officials have confirmed few details of Ethiopian and their allies’ actions.

    But a senior administration official told “PBS NewsHour” the U.S. has concluded “with a great deal of certainty there have been mass killings, the use of rape as a tool of war, forced displacement, and the destruction of civilian infrastructure.”

    Abiy recently admitted Eritrean soldiers were in Ethiopia. But he hasn’t admitted what they did, and he rejected recent U.S. requests for a cease-fire and political dialogue.

    Meanwhile, Tigrayan survivors are trying to recover from trauma. Many of them are in Sudan. These are the people whom Amnesty interviewed to discover what happened in Axum. They need help, and humanitarians can’t reach them.

  • Fisseha Tekle:

    Despite the improvement in terms of processing permissions for humanitarian staff, there is still limited access due to insecurity.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Limited access and limited visibility, but what appears to be evidence of atrocities.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Nick Schifrin.

     

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