ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – At least 749 civilians died in fighting in regions in northern Ethiopia since July last year, including extrajudicial killings by all sides involved in the conflict, a government-appointed rights group said on Friday.
The commission said the human rights violations it documented “may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity” and called for an impartial and credible criminal investigation.
War broke out 16 months ago between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region.
Since then, thousands have been killed and millions displaced from their homes. Fighting spread in July last year from Tigray into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions before the rebellious Tigray forces were pushed back in December and lost areas they controlled in the two regions.
In a report, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said all parties in the conflict committed unlawful and extra-judicial killings of civilians in the Afar and Amhara regions.
“In parts of Afar and Amhara regions covered by this investigation, at least 346 civilians have been subjected to unlawful and extra-judicial killing by parties to the conflict – mainly by Tigray forces,” Daniel Bekele, the commission’s head, told a news conference at the launch of the report.
There has been no attempt by any human rights organisation to quantify incidents of extrajudicial killing in Tigray itself, although a few individual incidents – like the alleged mass killing of hundreds of residents in the town in Axum – have previously been examined.
The commission said that in December 2021, soldiers from Ethiopia’s national army killed 30 civilians in a district of the Oromiya Zone in the Amhara region. The incident has not been previously reported.
Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and army spokesperson Getnet Adane did not immediately respond to requests to comment on the commission’s report.
The government has regularly denied targeting civilians. Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) spokesman Getachew Reda did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The TPLF has previously said it would welcome independent investigations into war atrocities, and accused the Ethiopian rights commission of bias, a charge the commission denies.
In addition to the extra-judicial killings, the commission’s report, conducted from September to December 2021, recorded 403 civilian death and 309 civilian injuries as the result of fighting in Amhara and Afar.
The report also investigated an air strike conducted by Ethiopian federal forces in June 2021, which it said killed 40 civilians in Togoga, a busy marketplace in Tigray region.
The government has in the past said it hit combatants in Togoga, despite the publication in media outlets of photos of wounded children after the air strike.
Reuters has not independently verified the images.
This week, the U.N. Human Rights Council said the situation in northern Ethiopia had worsened since November; it had received reports of wide-spread violations including rapes and air strikes against civilians.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom; Editing by George Obulutsa and Katharine Houreld)