Campaigning against sexual violence in the Tigray war on International Women’s Day – 8 March 2022

By Sally Keeble

Channel 4 on Rape in TigrayA campaign is building to mark this year’s international women’s day with a call to action over the sexual violence in the Tigray conflict – described as the most egregious in many decades.

With a meeting scheduled for the UK Parliament, letters are being sent by a former Ethiopian government minister and a number of women’s groups to the UN calling for justice and services for survivors.

And a new report from Ayder Hospital in Mekelle warns that many mothers are “doomed to die” and spells out the devastating impact of the violence on survivors of violence who are still unable to get the services they need.

Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed, Women and Children’s minister until she resigned from the Ethiopian government last year, will be among the speakers at next week’s parliamentary meeting. She has penned a letter to the UN security council calling for action over the sexual violence in the Tigray conflict. Meanwhile a second letter from 15 International women’s organisations appeals to Pramila Patten, the UN’s special representative for eliminating sexual violence in conflict. to “recognise, listen to, and help the women and girls of Tigray who have thus far been rendered invisible and inaccessible.”

The report from Ayder Hospital says that an eight months pregnant woman were among the rape victims aged between three and 80 years treated at the hospital. It says all of them had been left with mental health scars, half were pregnant, and many had physical injuries and diseases such as HIV as a result of the sexual assaults on them.

It also tells of 18 and 23 year old men seeking treatment at the Hospital after being raped by soldiers.

It gives the gruesome account of a woman abducted with 15 othes and her 12 year old son and taken to a military camp where 40 soldiers took turns to rape them. They soldiers – identified as Amhara and Eritrean – forced her to watch while they shot her son in his head, and then tied up with her son’s body set opposite her to make her suffer.

The report also warns of the disastrous impact on infant and maternal health as a result of the destruction of health facilities and the blockade.

Torture, sexual assault and rape in the war troubled Tigray region: The agony of survivor victims visiting Ayder Hospital

“Many mothers are doomed to die because of pregnancy and labor related complications as nearby healthcare institutions are either destroyed or looted,” it warns. The full report from the hospital’s medical staff is below.

Ayder Hospital has been treating victims of rape and sexual assault since the Tigray war broke out in Nov 3, 2020. The severity, pattern and forms of sexual violence we, as healthcare professionals, witnessed is vexing. In the first 8 months of the conflict, 755 women with horrific accounts have reported to our hospital. The age range of the sexually assault victims lie between 3 years and 80 years old. Nearly 50% were pregnant and a significant number were HIV positive at presentation. All cases have developed some form of psychiatric disorder including depression, psychosis, and post traumatic disorder. One of them has committed suicide 2 months back. Many of these survivors reported that they have witnessed the rape of other women or a family member. However, many other victims did not visit health facilities unless they have physical trauma or pregnancy, limiting survivors visiting health facilities.

Therefore, the number of women reported with sexual assault to our hospital is a small tip of a big iceberg. Severity, pattern and forms of sexual assault in victims visiting Ayder Hospital is appalling.

As has been verified with international media outlets, the nature of the atrocity was gruesome such that:

  1. Many are raped in front of their children and family members, soldiers have raped including eight(8) months pregnant mother[1]
  2. Soldiers kill the families of their victims[2]
  3. Soldiers torture, humiliate and insert foreign bodies into their victims’ private bodies[3]
  4. Rapes were not committed by a single perpetrator in a single encounter but women and girls were being gang raped in military barracks for several days[4]
  5. The soldiers tell the victims menacing words like, ‘A Tigrayan womb should never give birth’[5], ‘we are purifying and cleaning you from Tigrayan blood’[6]etc

Generally, most of the victims are having one or more of the following complications during their visit

  • They are psychologically unstable, tearful, depressed and hopeless
  • A significant number are HIV positive
  • Many of them are positive for sexually transmitting disease including Syphilis and Hepatitis B Virus
  • Some of them are pregnant at presentation
  • Most of them have perineal tears, anal and rectal fissures

The following are stories of patients who visited Ayder Hospital in the first 8 months since the war began. We believe that they can tell the world the severity, the pattern and the forms of sexual assault committed in the war torn Tigray.

Case # 01

  • 29 year old, divorced, mother of two kids, the older one lives in Europe with his father, the other 12 year old from another man lives with her
  • She leads her life by selling coffee in one of the cities in the Eastern Zone of Tigray
  • After the war broke out raped at 3 occations, by different group of soldiers
  • The first encounter was when she was taken away by group of soldiers from her home
  • They tied her hands and raped her for 3 days
  • Took her back and throw her around her home
  • When she arrives ar her home, weak and with broken spirit, she found her 12 year old son at home. When she was taken away, she left him with her 12 year old assistant (maid).
  • Disturbed by the disappearance of her maid, she was out to look out for her. She found her with an old lady in the neighbourhood. She found out that they rapped the 12 year old maid and the old lady too.
  • While she is with the old lady and with her maid in the old lady’s home, group of soldiers came and took turns rapping three of them.
  • After the soldiers left, she collected her maid and took her home.
  • Few days latter, soldiers came driving a van. They took 15 ladies who were rented in the building, including the owner of the house. Because, she does not have her 12 year old boy to leave him with, she also took him with her.
  • They took them to a far away place, which she has never seen. The place has long shrubs and is not inhabited. There was a military camp there.
  • She recounts that more than 40 soldiers who live in the camp took turns to rape them.
  • The time they arrived in the place, they told her to look while her 12 year old son is being killed and they shoot him in the forhead with a bullet. They tied her hands up and they put the body of her son so that she can seen him all the time. They told her that we cannot take him away and burry him because we want you to suffer.
  • She claims that they are Amhara and Eritrean soldiers.
  • Before they rape them, they drink a very strong local alcohol called, “Areki” which is about 40% Alcohol in content.
  • They also give the ladies intramascular injection of drugs which render the ladies uncounscious. The lady has multiple injection marks at her arm and buttocks.
  • She says, the soldiers brag that they are lucky the fact that they are being raped by the special people – the Eritreans. They told them that, when the ladies go back, they should celebrate being raped by special people.
  • Out of the 15 ladies, 4 were killed by Eritrean soldiers because they were “not good enough to have sex with.”
  • The soldiers are almost always drunk, celebrating, slaughtering animals and feed themselves.
  • After 3 days, when most of the soldiers were drunk, one Ethiopian soldier took a van and drive her and droped her at a place called Lachi, near Mekelle.
  • When she arrives to the health institution, she was hallucinating, anxious and psychologically unstable. She constantly cries. She says that she can see her son in her mind lying down bleeding all the time and that could not let her sleep.
  • She does not know what happens to the remaining ladies.

Case # 02

  • 18 year old, married, 5 months pregnant lady
  • She was travelling from Mekelle to Atsbi, when soldiers stoped a mini bus at checkpoint in Mekelle. They told her that they wanted to question her and let the other travellers go and continue their way.
  • They took her and lock her for 3 days.
  • Three soldiers took turns to rape her day and night.
  • After 3 days, they gave her a phone to call to her relatives. And set her free and found herself around Mesebo Cement Factory in the outskirt of Mekelle.
  • When she arrives to Hospital, she has multiple vulvar traum with bruise and hematoma. She said they beat her at her vuvla multiple times.

Case # 03

  • 29 year old, divorced, mother of 3
  • She used to be a KG teacher to support her kids. Since the Corona pandemic, she was reduced from the staff list
  • Now serves as a janitor in a private house and support her kids and herself
  • In one of the days, she was going home from the private house where she serves when she found group of soldiers in a patrol.
  • The soldiers took her and kept her in their camp for 2 weeks
  • She cooks for them at day time and they gang rape her whenever they wish
  • Her kids and the neighbourhood thought that she is dead
  • After 2 weeks, the head of the camp took her to her kids
  • He told her that, she can stay day time with her kids and they will come to collect her every evening and return her back home every morning
  • She agreed and she continued to do what they told her
  • One day, her friend, who was a KG teacher herself came to ask her why she did not kept in touch with her these days
  • Believing that she will keep a secret, she shared her condition with her friend. Her friend suggested that she should go to a hospital.
  • She took her to a hospital. In the hospital, she was hesitant to tell her story because she was affraid that the soldiers might know.
  • She left from the hospital and went home refusing to share her story and refused to accept treatment.
  • After she go home, the head of the military camp came again at around 7:00 pam evening and collect her in patrol.
  • Before she left her home, she called and consulted a healthcare professional she contacted at day time that the guy came again to take her.
  • The healthcare professional called the justice bureau head to tell him the situation. The justice bureau head told her that he is under the command post and he cannot move at this time to save her. He also added that he is affraid for his life too.
  • The next day, as usual, the head of the military camp brought her back at home to collect her at the evening.
  • But, that day she decided to dispear with her kids.
  • She consulted the healthcare professional she contacted the day before. She received treatments and was sent to save and secured location with her kids.
  • The women, on follow up visits, has shown improvements in her content but is suffering from pelvic pain, anal fissures and psychiatric unstabilities.

Case # 04

  • 20 year old,
  • One day a soldier came to her home while she was at home with her older brother who is 23 year old
  • The soldier tried to rape her but her brother stood against the soldier
  • The soldier then killed her brother and raped the girl
  • Affraid that her parent would blame her for her brother’s death she have not told anyone that he died to keep her safe
  • Now she came because she missed menses for 2 months.
  • She came in black clothes and cryin that her dear brother died to protect her and she suffers alone that she could not tell her family to avoid blame

Case # 05

  • 14 year old
  • A soldier came to their home where she was with her father, mother and her sibilings
  • He said he is going to search the house in case the house owners hide TPLF solider
  • He told the 14 year old girl to help him search while the rest of the family leave the house
  • She refused and he held her hand and broke her and raped her while her entire family watching
  • The family took her to traditional healer and the traditional healer put a bandage and a bamboo
  • When her hand becomes swollen and darkening, they brought her to hospital and she was told to have limb threatening conditon
  • She is also pregnant and has an old perineal tear

Case # 06

  • Another 14 year old
  • She was raped while her father and her mother are watching
  • The soldier told them to watch her being raped at a gun point

Case # 07

  • 20 year old
  • In the month of November, her father and mother told her to collect her 5 younger sibilings and leave the village
  • Her family told her that because they are old, the soldiers will do nothing but if they found the kids they might kill them
  • After few days, she went back to her home to collect some food supplies but she found out that the soldiers have killed them both
  • She went back to where she left her younger siblings. Left with no other option, they spent sometime eating leaves.
  • One day, the soldiers met them. They took her and left her 5 sibillings unattended.
  • They gang rape her for a week and send her.
  • She walked for 3 days on foot and come to a hospital for treatment.
  • After she finished her treatment, she went back to search for her sibillings.

Case # 08

  • 40 year old, mother of 2 kids
  • One day, while she was taking her old mother to a church, soldiers came and took her and other 10 – 15 ladies to a far away place. Among them was her sister.
  • They gang raped them
  • One female Eritrean soldier was crying and telling the soldiers to stop beating and raping the ladies
  • They told her repeatedly to stop caring for “Agame”. But she continued to beg them and they took her away and she disapeared.
  • After a week, they told her to go on her own because they found a better lady for sex
  • She crawled with her hands because she had trauma on her foot and had multiple injections in her buttock which were very painfull to walk.
  • Slowly, she made it to the a major road where she found people who were kind enough to take her to a nearby city.
  • In the nearby city, people collected money and send her to get treatment to Mekelle.
  • When she reached Mekelle, thieves robbed the money she got from the people in the city mentioned above.
  • Then, went to a hospital. She got treatment in the hospital. She is still psychologically unstable, has anal and rectal fissures, procittis and rectal prolapse.
  • When she sees soldiers in the hospital, she cries and shouts at them that, “why are you staring at me? I am your left over. Do you want to rape me again? Go ahead!”

Case # 08 and 9

  • 18 and 23 year old male victims
  • They could not give us detail story except that they wanted to receive the prophylactic and therapeutic medications to protect themselves from diseases after being raped by soldiers

These are the few cases of violence against women that we encounter daily at our hospital. At the beggining, we used to have some 50 cases per month from all parts of Tigray. Now, our GBV clinic hosts 6 – 8 rape cases per day and the number is sky rocketing. We still believe that, what these numbers show is a tiny tip of the BIG iceberg. We believe that many are dying in the mountains unattended.

Generally, most of the victims are having one or more of the following complications during their visit

  • They are psychologically unstable, tearful, depressed and hopeless
  • Some are weakly reactive for HIV test, requiring a repeat test for some other time to confirm the test
  • Many of them are positive for Syphilis and Hepatitis B Virus
  • Some of them are pregnant at presentation
  • Most of them have perineal tears, anal and rectal fissures

In addition to the issues of rape and sexual violence, many mothers suffer the complication of the war. Many mothers are doomed to die because of pregnancy and labor related complications as nearby healthcare institutions are either destroyed or looted and there is no access to ambulance.


[1]Ethiopia: Troops and militia rape, abduct women and girls in Tigray conflict – new report – Amnesty International

[2]A grave humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Ethiopia. ‘I never saw hell before, but now I have.’ (

[3] – Transcripts

[4]Horrific gang rapes taking place in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, UN warns | Daily Mail Online

[5]‘A Tigrayan womb should never give birth’: Rape in Tigray | Sexual Assault News | Al Jazeera

[6]‘Leave no Tigrayan’: In Ethiopia, an ethnicity is erased | AP News


  1. Unbelievable. Are they soldiers of Evil? Who is responsible for all these mental harms they leave behind?!

  2. The democratic world has been complacent on Tigray Genocides. Thausands of Tigray’s children are abducted into Eritrean camps. Grousame genocide videos taken by Amhara and Eritrean Soldiers are emerging. The videos were meant as trophies to their barbarian acts. Credit goes to Tigray Defense Force for
    capturing those barba. There is no hope in curtailing the hedeous acts from the west. Justice rests on the strength of Tigray.

  3. Such atrocities have been repeatedly reported but is the world listening?! It seems the people with power are looking the other way. Justice delayed is justice denied! These victims on top of the atrocities committed on them they are being purposely starved to death. What kind of world are in?! Does anyone care?!?!?! God help these poor people 🙏🙏🙏

  4. This is so highly exaggerated! TPLF militias has raped a 9 month pregnant woman and they threatens her that they will kill if the newborn come out to be male; which they did. They have raped from 4-a 85 Yrs old nuns. This is small piece of an iceberg atrocities that TPLF militias committed while they were advancing to the central Ethiopia. I can imagine the amount of money that few TPLF leaders have looted from the country and that they are “investing” it so “wisely” here in the media and western political system.

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