Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that Eritrean refugees involved in the months-long war in Ethiopia suffered abuse, including executions and rapes, which constituted “clear war crimes”.
A new report by the US-based rights watchdog details the role of Eritrean soldiers and rebel fighters from the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia in the massacre marked by forced repatriation and massive destruction of two refugee camps.
“The terrible killing, rape and robbery of Eritrean refugees in Tigray are clear war crimes,” said Laetitia Bader, director of the Horn of Africa at Human Rights Watch.
“For many years, Tigray has been a safe haven from abused Eritrean refugees, but many people now feel that they are no longer safe,” she added.
In November last year, conflict broke out in northern Ethiopia. At that time, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray to overthrow the regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The attack on the barracks.
According to the Ethiopian Refugee and Returnee Affairs Agency (ARRA), before the fighting broke out, Tigray was inhabited by 92,000 Eritrean refugees, of which 19,200 were living in Hittats and Shimelba refugee camps.
Although Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a brutal border war between 1998 and 2000, which killed tens of thousands of people, Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (Isaias Afwerki) established a reconciliation. Won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, and Asmara provided him with military support in Tigray.
Approximately two weeks after the conflict began, the forces of Eritrea and Tigray clashed for the first time near Hitsats.
Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that it had received “credible reports” that the Eritrean army had killed 31 people in the town of Hitsats, and the true death toll “may be much higher.”
Agence France-Presse has previously documented how pro-TPLF militias carried out retaliatory killings against refugees once the fighting reached the Hitsats camp, shooting and killing 9 young Eritrean men outside the church.
Human Rights Watch reported that when the Eritreans took control of the camp, they are believed to have transported 17 injured refugees to Eritrea for treatment.
However, the whereabouts of most of the evacuees are still unknown, and 20 to 30 people have been detained, “including members of the refugee committee and members of the opposition, two of whom are women,” it said.
Human Rights Watch said that the Tigray army regained control of the area in early December and began looting, detaining, raping and attacking refugees with weapons including grenades, potentially killing dozens of people.
The Eritrean army returned the following month and forced the evacuation of those still in the camp. Satellite images showed that Hitsats was quickly destroyed, the supervisory agency added.
The whereabouts of thousands of refugees in Hitsats and Shamella are still unaccounted for, and hundreds have no choice but to return to Eritrea, which Human Rights Watch calls “forced repatriation.”
Others eventually entered two camps in southern Tigray, Mai Aini and Adi Harush, which were controlled by TPLF in July.
ARRA, the Ethiopian refugee agency, accused TPLF of deploying heavy artillery in the two camps, looting vehicles and warehouses and preventing refugees from leaving-creating “a situation equivalent to hostages.”
TPLF rejected such allegations and vowed to ensure that refugees are protected.
Ethiopian officials are trying to speed up the migration of refugees from southern Tigray to a 90-hectare site in the neighboring Amhara region.
However, TPLF launched an offensive on Amhara in July, and the area has been hit hard in the recent fighting.
Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that all parties to the conflict should give refugees freedom of movement and expand access to aid.