Tigrayan fighters deliberately killed civilians and gang-raped dozens of women and underage girls in two towns in Ethiopia’s Amhara region last year, Amnesty International said on Wednesday, the latest example of the horrific toll exacted by the 15-month war.
The rights watchdog interviewed 30 rape survivors — some as young as 14 — and other victims of violence to draw a picture of the atrocities in Chenna and Kobo in August and September after rebels from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) seized control of the towns.
Nearly half the victims of sexual violence said they were gang-raped, with doctors telling Amnesty that some survivors had suffered lacerations likely caused by rifle bayonets being inserted into their genitals.
A 14-year-old schoolgirl told the rights group she and her mother were both raped by TPLF fighters who said the attacks were in revenge for atrocities committed against their own families.
“One of them raped me in the courtyard and the other raped my mother inside the house,” she said.
“My mother is very sick now, she is very depressed and desperate. We don’t speak about what happened; it is impossible.”
The investigation follows the publication of an Amnesty report in November which documented sexual assaults by Tigrayan rebels in the Amhara town of Nifas Mewcha.
“Evidence is mounting of a pattern of Tigrayan forces committing war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in areas under their control in the Amhara region from July 2021 onwards.
“This includes repeated incidents of widespread rape, summary killings and looting, including from hospitals,” Amnesty’s deputy director for East Africa, Sarah Jackson, said.
Residents of Kobo said TPLF fighters shot dead unarmed civilians, apparently in a revenge killing spree after facing resistance to their advance by Amhara militias.
“The first dead bodies we saw were by the school fence. There were 20 bodies lying in their underwear and facing the fence and three more bodies in the school compound. Most were shot at the back of their heads and some in the back.
“Those who were shot at the back of their heads could not be recognised because their faces were partially blown off,” one male resident said.
The watchdog said its satellite imagery analysis revealed the existence of the new burial sites referred to by the villagers.
The TPLF did not respond to the latest allegations, Amnesty said. But the rebel group has previously criticised the watchdog over its earlier report on alleged atrocities in Nifas Mewcha, saying it would conduct its own probe and bring perpetrators to justice.
The war in northern Ethiopia has been punctuated by accounts of massacres and mass rapes, with thousands of people killed and hundreds of thousands on the brink of starvation.
A joint investigation by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s office and the government-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission published last November found evidence of “serious abuses” , saying that some violations may amount to crimes against humanity.