Massacre In Ethiopia Raises Concerns Over Ethnic War

In a report posted on November 12th, Amnesty International confirmed “scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) town” on the 9th of November. Gruesome photographs and videos were digitally verified by the organization, which geo-located them to Mai-Kadra in Tigray, Ethiopia. Deprose Muchena, the Director for East and Southern Africa of Amnesty International said the following:

“We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down.”

The organization is calling for the government to restore communication to Tigray for better accountability and transparency surrounding military operations in the region. Without communications or media, independent sources have been unable to confirm facts about the situation in Tigray. They also call for the government to ensure access to humanitarian organizations and human rights monitors for the region of Tigray.

Ethiopian Defense Force soldiers and civilians found injured survivors amongst the dead on the morning of November 10th and took them to nearby hospitals.

Some witnesses claim those responsible were loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Survivors have claimed they were attacked by Tigray Special Police and other TPLF members. These claims have yet to be confirmed. The EDF defeated TPLF forces during the day on November 9th at Lugdi and then spent the night on the outskirts of Mai-Kadra. Tigrayan regional leader Debretsion Gebremichael has called the accusations “baseless,” to AFP News Agency. He has also claimed that federal air strikes have resulted in civilian casualties in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, as well as in the city of Adigrat on the border with Eritrea.

The EDF has been entangled in combat with the TPLF since November 4th, 2020 after an order from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in response to multiple attacks by Tigray security forces on a command base in Mekelle. The armed confrontations have included multiple airstrikes against TPLF forces. The Prime Minister and the Army Chief of Staff pledged to continue airstrikes, according to Amnesty International. The Prime Minister advises civilians to avoid ammunition depots and other military targets.

Amnesty International reports approximately 7,000 refugees have fled to Sudan from western Tigray as of November 11th. Al Jazeera reports more than 14,500.

Al Jazeera reports concerns that the conflict may draw in Eritrea or cause a diversion of Ethiopian troops from an opposition against al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Somalia.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed recently won a Nobel Peace Prize for a 2018 peace pact with Eritrea. Currently, he is taking military action against the TPLF in the name of anti-terrorism. The TPLF amounts the action to an invasion of Tigray, as they claim the government has “systematically persecuted Tigrayans since [Abiy] took office in April 2018.” They claim the federal airstrikes knocked out a power dam, which has been denied by Ethiopian officials.

The Prime Minister, a member of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group the Oromo, has recently been removing Tigrayan leadership from power. Horn of Africa expert Rashid Abdi said “the purging of competent Tigrayan officials in the midst of the conflict is not good for the morale of the (security and military) services,” as reported by Al Jazeera. He goes on to suggest that this is “an ethnic war masked as a centre-periphery power struggle.” Some refugees in Sudan have spoken of killings “based on ethnicity” according to the Guardian.

However,  this week the Prime Minister urged Ethiopians to take action to protect Tigrayans from “negative pressures.”

In an internal security report from the UN, Ethiopian police were noted requesting a list of Tigrayan staff from an office of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Amhara. The leadership of Amhara, a region which borders Tigray, back Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Under the communication blackout in Tigray, it is difficult to get reliable information on what exactly is going on day to day. With both sides pointing fingers at each other, it is unclear who is responsible for this atrocity. Concerns around an ethnic war, destabilization of the region, and further civilian casualties are ever-present in the discussion surrounding the conflict in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government needs to take responsibility for restoring the communication lines in the region to improve transparency surrounding the conflict and ensure better accountability. The killing of civilians is abhorrent, and should not be taken lightly. A full-scale investigation should be enacted by independent parties to determine the party guilty of the war crimes. The federal government and the TPLF need to consider the well-being of the civilians of Tigray and work towards peace talks that will mend the relationship and ensure the safety of the civilians residing in Tigray.