The armed standoff between the Ethiopian federal government and militants from the country’s Tigray region has already claimed thousands of lives and forced almost a million people to flee their homes.
In November 2020, Eritrean troops possibly killed hundreds of civilians in the northern Ethiopian town of Axum, which may amount to crime against humanity, Amnesty International claimed in a report released on Friday.
Violence in the area has been raging since 4 November, after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a popular guerrilla organisation in the Tigray region.
The ancient town of Axum is reportedly home to the Ark of the Covenant. The Bible describes the ark as a gilded chest that contains stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. The chest, which is topped with two golden figurines of angels, was carried using poles inserted through rings on its sides. The ark is believed to have been in an Axum church since the 1960s.
The Ark of the Covenant
Amnesty Director for East and Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said “the evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion” concerning Ethiopian and Eritrean troops committing “multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum”.
He called for an UN-led investigation into the Axum atrocities to be opened, saying that those suspected of being responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity should be prosecuted in “fair trials”.
Ethiopians, who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, carry their belongings after crossing the Setit River on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in the eastern Kassala state, Sudan December 16, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
The Amnesty official also urged the Ethiopian government to grant “full and unimpeded access across Tigray for humanitarian, human rights, and media organisations”.
Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) chief Daniel Bekele said that Amnesty’s Axum-related findings should be taken “very seriously”.
The federal government’s conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) escalated in 2019, when the party quit Prime Minister Abiy’s governing coalition.
In September 2020, Tigray defied federal COVID-19 restrictions and held regional parliamentary elections. The federal government did not recognise the results and called local authorities a “junta” and “fugitives from justice” who must be “made accountable by law” after launching a military operation on 4 November.
Both sides have repeatedly accused each other of escalating the violence, and of indiscriminate attacks on civilians. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet described the situation in Ethiopia as “exceedingly worrying and volatile”, warning it is “spiraling out of control”.
The fighting in Tigray has already forced at least 1 million people to flee their homes, with many entering areas bordering the region and others crossing into neighboring Sudan, according to media reports.
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