Two reports about the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans and mass graves of Amharas in western Tigray have been shared this week. For years, western Tigray ( Wolkait, Tsegede, Himora) has been a disputed territory between the Tigray and Amhara regions of Ethiopia. Read more…
Tigray forces were in control of the region before the start of the Tigray war in November 2020. But for the past 17 months or so, the area has been under Amhara control.
Mass graves & secret prisons found in Wolkait Tsegede
According to Amhara state-backed news sources, 9 mass graves have been discovered in the Wolkait-Tegede and Telemt zone of the Amhara regional state. The graves were uncovered during a study conducted by the Gonder University of Ethiopia. Apart from mass graves, some secret prisons have also been uncovered.
The study says at least 59,000 ethnic Amhara civilians were massacred and buried together in 12 mass graves including in the three mass graves that are found in the Tigray region.
Five of the mass graves were found along the Talima River between Wolkait and Tegede, said the study and confirmed that larger numbers of the victims were massacred in 1981.
The place was referred to as “Gehanam” and the study described the dead as “innocent farmers, priests, children and women and famous people in the zone.” Remains of 36 civilians were uncovered as the unearthing of the dead bodies began last week. The University’s committee said the unearthing requires heavy machines like dozens of excavators.
Amhara regional government claims that the innocent Amhara civilians in Wolkait and Tsegede were massacred by Tigray fighters when Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was fighting the Derg military of Ethiopian ruler Mengistu Hailemariam. Mengistu ruled Ethiopia from 1977 to 1991.
In a statement, Amhara regional state president Yilkal Kifale termed the mass graves and detention centers as a stain on the conscience of the western governments that backed TPLF.
Ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans in western Tigray
While the Amhara region is highlighting the issue of mass graves found in western Tigray, two human rights bodies have leveled serious allegations against Amhara regional forces. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International released a joint report about the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans at the hands of Amhara forces and militias in Wolkiat, Himora, and Tsegede.
The report is titled “We Will Erase You From This Land’: Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone”.
Western Tigray has been totally inaccessible to aid agencies and human rights bodies since the start of the Tigray conflict. Therefore the detailed inquiry report relies on remote interviews and interviews of people displaced from western Tigray.
“Since November 2020, Amhara officials and security forces have engaged in a relentless campaign of ethnic cleansing to force Tigrayans in Western Tigray from their homes,” said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. “Ethiopian authorities have steadfastly denied the shocking breadth of the crimes that have unfolded and have egregiously failed to address them.”
The report claims that tens of thousands of Tigrayans have been forcibly expelled from western Tigray in the last 17 months. Extrajudicial killings, rapes, and torture have been committed against Tigray ethnic group members. Amhara special force, Amhara paramilitary groups, and Amhara government officials with the tacit approval of the Ethiopian federal forces committed these atrocities that could amount to war crimes, remark investigators.
With a large number of Tigrayans still detained in illegal detention centers, HRW & Amnesty urge the international community to do more. “The response of Ethiopia’s international and regional partners has failed to reflect the gravity of the crimes that continue to unfold in Western Tigray,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary-General of Amnesty International. “Concerned governments need to help bring an end to the ethnic cleansing campaign, ensure that Tigrayans are able to safely and voluntarily return home, and make a concerted effort to obtain justice for these heinous crimes.”
The report recommends investigations against Colonel Demeke Zewdu, Commander Dejene Maru, and Belay Ayalew. Colonel Demeke Zewdu is now serving as deputy administrator of Himora, Wolkait, Tsegede. Commander Dejene Maru or Shaleqa is a commander of Ghafat brigade of Amhara special force. Belay Ayalew is reportedly an intelligence official.
In the end, HRW & Amnesty recommend the demobilization of all forces/militias and the deployment of an African Union-led peacekeeping force in the area.
While the way forward is an independent investigation into Wolkait mass graves and the HRW-Amnesty report, the Ethiopian government is already denying access to a UN inquiry commission. The commission was formed by UN Human Rights Council to inquire into human rights abuses committed during the Tigray conflict.
Tigray regional government has also been rejecting inquiries conducted by HRW and Amnesty International about the involvement of Tigray fighters in sexual violence perpetrated in the Amhara region of Ethiopia last year.