Ethiopia convicts soldiers of crimes against civilians in Tigray

Three soldiers convicted of rape, while 28 charged with killings and further 25 charged with rape and sexual assault.

Ethiopia’s military prosecutors have convicted three soldiers of rape and pressed charges against 28 others suspected of killing civilians in the ongoing conflict in the northern Tigray region, the attorney general’s office announced.

In addition, 25 other soldiers are charged with rape and other forms of sexual violence, according to a statement on Friday.

The six-month-old Tigray conflict is blamed for the deaths of thousands of people and for atrocities including rape, extrajudicial killings, and forced evictions, according to local authorities and aid groups.

The statement by the attorney general’s office also confirmed reports of two massacres in Tigray. It said 229 civilians were killed in the town of Mai Kadra at the beginning of November.

Moreover, the Ethiopian government also for the first time accused troops from neighbouring Eritrea of killing civilians in the war-hit region.

It said 110 civilians were killed in the city of Axum on November 27 and 28 “by Eritrean troops”.

“The investigation shows that 70 civilians have been killed in the city [of Axum] while they were outdoors,” said the report, adding that some of those killed might have been “irregular combatants”.

“Forty civilians seem to have been taken out of their homes and killed in home-to-home raids conducted by Eritrean troops,” said the report.

People mourn the victims of a massacre allegedly perpetrated by Eritrean soldiers in the village of Dengolat, north of Mekelle – the capital of Tigray [File: Eduardo Soteras/AFP] In earlier reports on Axum, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty also blamed Eritrean troops fighting in Tigray, and said the dead were mostly civilians.

Amnesty said the Eritreans “went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood”.

‘Ethnic cleansing’

The Tigray conflict erupted in early November when Prime Minister Abiy sent troops to detain and disarm leaders of the regional governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Abiy said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

Reports of atrocities have led US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to allege that “ethnic cleansing” is taking place in the western Tigray area.

On Thursday, the US Senate passed a resolution condemning “all violence against civilians” in Tigray and calling for the withdrawal of troops from neighbouring Eritrea, which also sent troops to Tigray to support the Ethiopian government.

On Friday, some Ethiopians – both at home and abroad – staged a “Hands Off Ethiopia” social media campaign in which they urged foreign countries to stop “meddling in Ethiopia’s affairs”.

Abiy, who came to power in 2018 and introduced sweeping democratic reforms for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, has promised that the upcoming parliamentary elections on June 21 will be free and fair. His Prosperity Party must win a majority of seats in Ethiopia’s parliament for him to remain prime minister.

In addition to the Tigray conflict, Abiy’s government is struggling to contain ethnic violence in several regions of Ethiopia.

The opposition Oromo Federalist Congress has pledged to boycott the vote, saying it is being harassed by the authorities. Several of its leaders are still in prison following a wave of violent unrest sparked last summer by the killing of an Oromo musician.