The United States State Department joined many other countries and international organizations who expressed outrage after two separate reports — one released by Amnesty International and the other by CNN — accused troops from the African nation of Eritrea of indiscriminately massacring large numbers of Ethiopian civilians during fighting that occurred in Ethiopia’s Tigray region late last year.
The Tigray region in the northern portion of Ethiopia was the site of a bloody military conflict last year after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the quasi-communist political party that ruled Ethiopia for decades, up until 2018. According to numerous eyewitnesses cited in both reports, troops from neighboring Eritrea took place in the conflict on Abiy’s side, a claim that the Ethiopian government only recently admitted (and which the Eritrean government still denies).
According to the Amnesty International report, during the course of the conflict, Eritrean troops killed “hundreds” of Ethiopian civilians indiscriminately during a 24-hour period in late November of 2019, which it called a potential “crime against humanity.” The killings allegedly took place in the Ethiopian city of Axum on November 28th, in apparent reprisal for a militia attack that had allegedly been carried out by militants based in Axum.
Separately, a report released by CNN on Saturday alleges that Eritrean forces slaughtered possibly over 100 unarmed Orthodox Christians at Maryam Dengelat, an Orthodox monastery complex in Edaga Hamus. CNN’s report, based on the testimony of dozens of eyewitnesses, alleges that Eritrean forces opened fire on unarmed parishioners as they attended mass during the Orthodox festival of Tsion Maryam, which commemorates the day that Ethiopians believe the Ark of the Covenant was brought to the country from Jerusalem.
The Eritrean government strongly denied Amnesty International’s report and claimed that Amnesty International made no attempt to get the Eritrean side of the story. CNN’s report states that it attempted to obtain comment from the Eritrean government, which did not respond. The Ethiopian government, which has itself been accused of ethnic cleansing in Tigray, said in response to the report that it welcomed “international technical assistance” into investigations of possible human rights abuses in the area.
The United States State Department noted that there have been many “credible” reports that Eritrean troops are, in fact, involved in the conflict, and called upon Eritrean forces to be withdrawn from Tigray “immediately.”
By all accounts, the escalating violence in the north of Ethiopia has generated a flood of refugees that has been unseen since the widespread famine and violence that ravaged the region for much of the 1970s and 80s, and the burgeoning humanitarian crisis may have ripple effects throughout the rest of northeastern Africa and the Middle East.