(Source: Aigaforum.com, By Fitih Ashenafi) –
The 10 May Ethiopia’s Attorney General’s announcement of ‘the killing of 93 people mostly fighters’ in the Axum massacre and ‘116 reported rape cases’ has only exposed the regime’s deceit and resolve to obstruct justice – further proof that the Tigray atrocities, sexual violence, wealth destruction and starvation must only be investigated by an independent body.
Why do we say it is a cover-up?
First, the Ethiopian regime, through his Attorney General’s office, fabricated facts regarding the events leading up to the Axum massacre. Deputy attorney general Fikadu Tsega declared his office’s ‘findings’ that 1,500 Axum youth ‘received military training’ before the Tigray conflict who fought an Eritrean contingent stationed in the suburb of the city; during heavy fighting 93 people most of whom the’ trained youth’ were killed by the Eritrean forces.
Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, other reputed international sources and, to a great extent, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reports sharply contradict the regime’s Attorney’s account. For example, Amnesty made it clear that:
‘Over an approximately 24-hour period on 28-29 November, Eritrean soldiers deliberately shot civilians on the street and carried out systematic house-to-house searches, extrajudicially executing men and boys.’
It is true that a brief incident of war occurred between the Eritrean army contingent in the Mai-Koho area which is located outside the city. Amnesty added that: ‘The [Axum] massacre was carried out in retaliation for an earlier attack by a small number of local militiamen, joined by local residents armed with sticks and stones’.
The Eritrean army (along the Ethiopian army) began shelling the city before they entered it and also shot many people when already arrived at the city on 19 November and thereafter.
These accounts have been reiterated by Human rights Watch, including the fact that ‘Eritrean forces, in apparent retaliation, fatally shot and summarily executed several hundred residents, mostly men and boys, over a 24-hour period’
The EHRC report on the Axum massacre, although vague and minimalist, admitted that innocent civilians, including those who escaped the war from western Tigray and others have been massacred in front of their wives and children by Eritrean forces.
Therefore, the Attorney General’s story of ‘1500 trained youth’ and ‘heavy fighting’ are wholly fabricated cover-up reasons by the Abiy regime in defense of the Eritrean army’s gross crimes. The victims were targeted by the Eritrean merciless army on the streets of the city, in their houses and other community places, including churches.
Secondly, the deputy Attorney General claims that 93 people most of whom fighters have been killed. Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and others considered the number of victims to be in hundreds, while the Tigray authorities consider the number to be over a thousand. Some eye witness accounts who returned from Axum to the west have confirmed that they have helped the burial process of hundreds of civilian victims.
Even if one accepts such a lie as true, the Eritrean forces were supposed to targeted those who were fighting them during direct armed hostilities. Note, however, Axum city dwellers are entitled, under international law, to spontaneously rise up and resist foreign forces to defend themselves and their cities from an Eritrean aggression. Using the spontaneous action of some of the youth as a reason for mass murder of civilians is therefore criminal itself.
Thirdly, the Attorney General’s account refers to a two months’ long inquiry which undertook 95 interviews of TPLF fighters and the ‘youth who were given firearms’ who confirmed the killing of 93 people. These two numbers appear to be randomly picked up. No mention of forensic or other forms of inquiry, other than interviews.
There is no trace of evidence from survivors, loved ones, experts, the Eritrean army, etc. If their account it true, and they are confident about it, they should have told us the names of commanders and soldiers from the Eritrean and Ethiopian army who have first-hand information about the case.
In contrast, Amnesty conducted 41 witness, survivor and other 20 expert interviews; they also conducted ’11 days of research’ in the Hamdaite refugee camp in Sudan. Most importantly, they corroborated witness statements with relevant satellite imagery and their expert interpretation of burial sites. Human Rights Watch did similar inquiry, including video evidence.
Fourthly, the announcement refers to 116 rape cases reported to the police in Axum. They deliberately omitted as to who the suspects of rape are in the city, but referred to the federal army and police, without mentioning the Eritrean army. It said that members of the federal police will be investigated by regional prosecutors while army members would appear before a court martial.
Not only that this random number of rapes have been used to diminish the magnitude of the sexual violence committed in Axum and other cities, towns and villages of Tigray, but also the entire exercise is clearly meant to exonerate the Eritrean army from the rampant sexual violence and sadism they are implicated in. It is now an open secret that sexual violence has been used as a weapon in the Tigray conflict by the Eritrean, federal an Amhara forces.
The silence of the Attorney General (and federal police) regarding the looting, vandalizing and wanton destruction of property of Tigrayans and their public services in Axum and other parts of Tigray is further proof that what they have done is a politically motivated move to undermine the rule of law and the interest of victims and their families.
To sum up, the regime’s Attorney General’s office’s (and the federal police) report on killings and rapes is a sham account of the Axum atrocities and sexual violence –which was designed to cover-up facts, actors and the magnitude of the crimes that have been described as crimes against humanity and war crimes by credible and independent reports. The international community widely questioned and rejected it as a result.
However, the regime’s report confirmed two things: a) the Eritrean army was involved in the conflict and civilian massacres from the very beginning; and b) sexual violence has been committed en masse.
Law Enforcement institutions part of crimes
Such cover-up and deceit by the Abiy regime and its institutions must not be seen in isolation. They are part of the genocidal campaign going-on by the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes and their Amhara partners in crime.
The Attorney General and federal police offices are collectively arresting and harassing Tigrayans in various camps of central Ethiopia. These two offices and their key officials are heavily involved in fabricating charges and lies against Tigrayans. They manage and execute the ethnic cleansing policy of the regime in collaboration with other security agencies, as widely reported internationally.
Atrocities and targeting women are continuing in Tigray. In the last couple of days, the Eritrean army put innocent civilian into Toilet grounds when alive. More than 70 priests have been killed in one zone alone as reported by the western media. The Amhara and Eritrean forces are diverting relief and other agricultural necessities; they are barring farmers from ploughing their lands.
All these are meant to eradicate and starve the people of Tigray—and therefore amounts to crimes against humanity and genocide, as rightly described so by his holiness Abune Mathias, the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and may others. The very same institutions and their officials who are engaged in such cover-up and obstruction of justice are harassing and threatening the Patriarch for speaking the truth.
Therefore, the Attorney General, federal police and other regime agencies of Ethiopia, along the Eritrean dictatorial regime, are part of the mass crimes, and thus are expected to engage in cover-ups and deception. This report needs to be treated as part of lying project of the regime of Abiy Ahmed –notably the lying and misinforming the UN Secretary-General on Eritrea’s involvement in the conflict and the infamous pronouncement that ‘the army has not killed a single civilian’ made by Abiy Ahmed to the Ethiopian Parliament.
Reject an obstruction of justice
The question is thus what should the international community do with this and similar sham regime reports? The Attorney General’s ‘report’ must be firmly rejected by the international community for several reasons:
1.Ethiopian leaders, along with their law enforcement officials, are the prime suspects in the mass crimes that have been committed, and continue to be committed, in Tigray. It is a foundational rule of criminal justice that likely defendants must be excluded from participating in investigations, let alone leading them. In particular, the Attorney General and Federal Police, along with other federal security agencies, are implicated in the mass arrests, charges, searches, abuses, purges, intimidation, torture, and ethnic profiling of Tigrayans across Ethiopia, including the capital.
2. Such law enforcement institutions, along the regime’s foreign missions and others are fully engaged in distorting and hiding atrocities—they attack those who speak the truth ranging from human rights groups, religious leaders and UN officials and journalists. And
3.The Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara authorities are working hard to destroy, distort, and conceal relevant materials and human evidence by intimidating and evicting victims, witnesses, and residents of international crimes. There are credible reports of threatening witnesses, survivors and victims of violence by these forces in Tigray.
To recap, UN human rights groups, concerned governments and others must re-visit their acceptance of the so-called joint investigations of crimes in Tigray.
Regime institutions can only be obstacles for the aforementioned reasons by destroying all sorts of evidence and fabricating lies. The report at hand is strong evidence of the intention and plans of the partners in crime.
Ethiopian law enforcement institutions will do everything within their power to diminish the degree and nature of the crimes being perpetrated by their colleagues and partners.
The international community must thus be firm to undertake impartial and credible investigation on the Tigray serious war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide before it is too late.