Ethiopia conflict: TPLF accused of executing civilians

Ethiopian soldiers

Soldiers of the Ethiopian National Defense Force walk along a road toward the frontline in Gashena, Ethiopia, on December 6, 2021. Ethiopian rebel group, Tigray People’s Liberation Front, is facing new accusations of summary executions of civilians.

Photo credit: Solan Kolli| AFP

Ethiopian rebel group, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), is facing new accusations of summary executions of civilians in what could add a new toll of atrocities to the conflict in the country.

A detailed report released by rights lobby, Human Rights Watch, on Friday has revealed that the TPLF carried out numerous civilian executions during the past battles in the Tigray and Amhara regions.

“Tigrayan forces summarily executed dozens of civilians in two towns they controlled in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region between August 31 and September 9, 2021.

“These killings highlight the urgent need for the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an international investigative mechanism into abuses by all warring parties in the expanded Tigray conflict,” said the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Residents in affected areas told the organisation that TPLF forces who entered the village called Chenna, for example, in late August executed 26 civilians in fifteen separate incidents, before withdrawing on September 4.

Retaliatory attacks

“In the town of Kobo on September 9, Tigrayan forces summarily executed a total of 23 people in four separate incidents, witnesses said. The killings were in apparent retaliation for attacks by farmers on advancing Tigrayan forces earlier that day” HRW added.

Lama Fakih, Human Rights Watch Crisis and Conflict Director revealed that TPLF forces showed brutal disregard for human life and the laws of war by executing people in their custody.

“These killings and other atrocities by all sides to the conflict underscore the need for an independent international inquiry into alleged war crimes in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Amhara regions” said Lama.

Evidences from relatives 

In September and October, Human Rights Watch said it remotely interviewed 36 people, including witnesses to killings, victims’ relatives and neighbours, religious figures, and doctors about fighting and abuses in around Chenna Teklehaimanot village and Kobo Town in Amhara.

“Nineteen people described seeing Tigrayan fighters in Chenna and Kobo summarily executing a total of 49 people who they said were civilians, providing 44 names. The organization also obtained three lists of civilians who had allegedly been killed in Chenna between August 31 and September 4.

“Taken together, the lists contain 74 names, 30 of which witnesses and relatives of those killed also mentioned to Human Rights Watch. In addition to summary executions, civilians may also have been killed during the fighting from crossfire or heavy weapons. Human Rights Watch was not able to determine how many were killed in this way” HRW cited.

A 70-year-old man said that two Tigrayan fighters killed his son and nephew, aged 23 and 24 respectively in Chenna's Agosh-Mado village on September 2.

“At about midday two Tigrayan fighters came to my compound …They asked [for] our identity cards and accused us of being members of the local defense forces. Then they tied my son and nephew’s hands behind their backs and took them out through the gate of my compound and shot them dead there. Then they turned to me, and I begged them not to kill me and they left” said the elderly man who chose to remain anonymous” the man chose privacy narrated.

Human shielding

Other witnesses also said that TPLF forces put civilians at grave risk by holding them in residential compounds and shooting from those compounds at Ethiopian troops positioned on nearby hills, drawing return fire. Such actions may amount to “human shielding,” a war crime.

HRW added that four residents described the summary execution of 23 people, including farmers returning to Kobo, in four incidents in the town.

“As these forces searched for weapons in at least two villages, farmers there attacked the Tigrayan forces and fighting ensued. When Tigrayan forces returned to Kobo shortly after midday, they attacked farmers working in the fields between the villages and Kobo” the rights group added.

The TPLF did not immediately respond to the claims and HRW says it sent an advance copy but got no comment.