NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopia’s rival Tigray forces raped or gang-raped local women after attacking a community in the Amhara region as they pushed toward the country’s capital, a new Amnesty International report says, opening a new front of horror in the yearlong war.
The report released early Wednesday, based on interviews with 16 women and local authorities, is the most extensive one yet by a human rights watchdog on alleged abuses by Tigray forces after they entered Amhara four months ago. Earlier as the war raged in the Tigray region, ethnic Tigrayans reported hundreds of rapes by Ethiopian and allied forces, and experts have estimated that thousands occurred.
The Tigray forces expanded the war into Amhara since retaking much of their region in June, and The Associated Press has spoken to multiple witnesses who described abuses such as house-to-house killings. The United Nations human rights office last week said all sides have committed abuses in the war between Ethiopia’s government and the Tigray forces who had dominated the national government for almost three decades.
The Amnesty report focuses on the Amhara town of Nifas Mewcha, which was attacked by Tigray forces in mid-August and returned to government control several days later.
Fourteen of the 16 women told the human rights group they were gang-raped by Tigray fighters. Some described being raped at gunpoint. Others said the fighters raped them while their children watched.
“The testimonies we heard from survivors describe despicable acts by (Tigray) fighters that amount to war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity. They defy morality or any iota of humanity,” Amnesty International’s secretary general, Agnes Callamard, said in a statement.
The women said they identified the Tigray fighters by their accents and by ethnic slurs against Amhara, and in some cases the fighters announced they were with the Tigray forces.
Regional government authorities told Amnesty that more than 70 women reported being raped in Nifas Mewcha alone.
“The way it happened in nine days, it is extremely shocking,” Amnesty researcher Fisseha Tekle told The Associated Press. While he said the rights group cannot characterize the actions as systematic because of the report’s limited focus, “by itself, it’s horrible.”
What Amnesty documented in the town was almost the same as what it has documented in Tigray, he said, “the ethnic slurs, the ethnic dimension, the gang rapes. All these things are similar.”
Spokesman for the Tigray forces Getachew Reda, who has repeatedly denied that the fighters are attacking civilians, did not respond to AP questions.
One woman told Amnesty she was raped by three fighters after they came to her house and demanded she make them coffee. Another woman said three fighters raped her at gunpoint while her children cried. Yet another woman said four fighters raped her while her 10-year-old daughter watched: “I don’t have the strength to tell you what she saw.” A fourth woman said fighters called her “donkey” and beat her unconscious with the butts of their guns.
“I am also a sex worker. But it has become difficult for me to trust anyone after what they did to me,” a fifth woman said.
The women of Nifas Mewcha who spoke with Amnesty were mostly from low-income families and doing menial jobs, researcher Fisseha said. Almost all were left without medical care after the attacks because the Tigray forces had looted the local hospital and health center, he said, leaving the women without post-rape care.
“The last time I spoke with them, they were asking for help, immediate intervention to check their health status,” Fisseha said. Now one is pregnant, he added.
As the war in Ethiopia intensifies, he said, “what we get in terms of human rights violations is catastrophic.” He called on the warring sides to increase their efforts to protect civilians.
Diplomatic efforts continue this week by an African Union envoy and a U.S. one amid growing calls for an immediate cease-fire and talks.