Hundreds of unarmed Ethiopian civilians were systematically killed by Eritrean troops in the northern city of Axum, a new report by Amnesty International says.
The “massacre in Axum” is believed to have taken place over a 24-hour period between the 28th and the 29th of November last year. Following the killings, the organisation reports, hundreds more locals were detained and told that the shootings would restart if government forces faced continued resistance. Ethiopian and Eritrean forces first entered the city on the 19th of November after days of “indiscriminately shelling the city and firing at those who tried to flee.”
“Eritrean soldiers deliberately shot civilians on the street and carried out systemic house-to-house searches, extrajudicially executing men and boys,” the report says. “The massacre was carried out in retaliation for an earlier attack by a small number of local militiamen, joined by residents armed with sticks and stones.”
Satellite imagery from Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab showes evidence of shelling.
According to the report, Eritrean troops fired on Axum residents as they tried to carry the bodies away after the bombing ended. Eritrean government forces are also accused of engaging in the widespread looting of the city. Amnesty International has published satellite images that appear to show fresh mass burials sites in Axum as well as evidence of heavy shelling in the city.
For almost four months, an ongoing civil war has engulfed Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. Back in early November, government forces launched a sustained attack on the region after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) allegedly attacked military bases. Tensions were already high after regional leaders held local elections days earlier despite a federal ban on all voting.
Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed — who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 — has been accused of orchestrating the attempted ethnic cleansing of all Tigrayans.
Satellite imagery from Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab appears to show where mass graves were dug.
Amnesty International’s report is based on interviews with 41 survivors and witnesses, some of whom escaped to refugee camps in neighbouring Sudan.
One account of the event described how a woman and her child in Axum were killed by the bombing. “She was outside the compound and moving, trying to find a safe place,” an eyewitness remembered. “The shell fell on her. She had three kids. Two of them ran but the third was a little kid [she] carried on her back. He was killed with her.”
Another witness told Amnesty International how he and his friends tried to find shelter when the shelling started. “I was with my friends chilling out on the street when the bombing started,” he recalled. “We were scared and tried to hide underground and in buildings. We found a market and hid there. I saw three people who were friends with each other try to run on the street. Two of them got injured. The third one was killed: half of his face was removed.”
Amnesty International has called for a full investigation into the incident in Axum.
“The evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa. “Ethiopian and Eritrean troops carried out multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum. Above and beyond that, Eritrean troops went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood, which appears to constitute crimes against humanity.”