Ethiopian Human Rights Commission: Rapid Investigation into Grave Human Rights Violation in Maikadra Preliminary Findings

“Some of the Maikadra residents who attempted to escape to the ’desert plains’ or the nearby Sudanese town of Berehet, fearing attacks by a defeated and retreating Tigrayan militia and special force, were forced back home by the local militia. Around the same time, members of “Samri” – an informal Tigrayan youth group -set up and manned checkpoints at all of the town’s four main exits….On the same day (November 9 th , 2020), around 3:00 P.M., the local police, militia and the informal Tigray youth group called “Samri” returned to “Genb Sefer” where the majority of people of Amhara ethnic origin live and began the attack against civilians….While it is not possible yet to verify the exact numbers of the dead, the physically injured and/or those who suffered property damage, the members of the Burial Committee, set up after the attack, eyewitnesses and other local sources, estimate a minimum of 600 have been killed and say the number is likely to be higher still.”

Ethiopian Human Rights Commission

Full Report here and below.

Maikadra Preliminary Findings English Final

Rapid Investigation into Grave Human Rights Violation in Maikadra Preliminary Findings

24 November 2020

Introduction

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC/The Commission) deployed a team of

human rights experts to Maikadra, in Tigray Region’s Western Zone, for a rapid investigation

into purported mass killings of civilians and related human rights violations.

Between November 14th, 2020 and November 19th, 2020, the EHRC team travelled between

Maikadra, Abrhajira, Sanja, Gondar, Dansha and Humera and gathered testimonies and other

evidences from victims, eye witnesses, families of victims, first responders, military personnel

and various other sources including government authorities who were present at the time of

EHRC’s visit. The team also visited hospitals and health facilities and talked to survivors and

other relevant authorities.

This report presents the mission’s key preliminary findings along with highlights of ongoing

human rights concerns and recommendations. The full report will follow with additional

detailed and verified evidence.

Preliminary findings

Brief description of Maikadra

Maikadra is a rural town located in Western Zone, Hafta Humera Woreda of Tigray Region. It

is situated 30 kilometers south of Humera and 60 kilometers north of Midre Genet (also

known as Abdurafi). An estimated 40,000 to 45,000 people of Tigrayan, Amhara, ’Wolkait’

and other ethnic origin reside there. Wolkait is the local name for people of Amhara descent

who were born or have long resided in Wolkait Woreda.

Seasonal workers, mainly from Amhara Region but also from a few other areas, go to

Maikadra for seasonal work on large sesame and millet farms on the outskirts of the town,

locally known as ‘desert plains’, and live in one designated neighborhood with groups of up

to 12 people sharing a single house. As in every other year, these seasonal laborers, also

known as ‘saluks’, have been in Maikadra since September for the season’s harvest.

Preparation leading up to and start of the attack

People of non-Tigrayan ethnic origin, and especially of Amhara and Wolkait origin, have

been subjected to great fear and pressure from the day the conflict between the Federal and

the Tigray regional governments broke out on November 4 th , 2020. The seasonal labourers, in

particular, were altogether prohibited from moving freely in the town, from going to work and

even from returning to their usual place of residence.

A few days before the attack, when the Ethiopian Defence Forces were said to be nearing the

town, the local administration police and militia forces shut all the exit points from Maikadra.

(Militia refers to armed community security personnel who are not part of the regular police

force but are set up by regional/local administration within the structure of, as applicable,

either the Regional Peace and Security Bureau or the Regional Police Commissions. They are

therefore part of the government security apparatus. In rural towns and villages with no

regular police, in particular, militia serve as first security responders.)

Some of the Maikadra residents who attempted to escape to the ’desert plains’ or the nearby

Sudanese town of Berehet, fearing attacks by a defeated and retreating Tigrayan militia and

special force, were forced back home by the local militia. Around the same time, members of

“Samri” – an informal Tigrayan youth group -set up and manned checkpoints at all of the

town’s four main exits.

On November 9, 2020, the day of the attack, from around 11:00 AM onwards, the town police

started checking identity cards to differentiate people of non-Tigray origin from the rest and

raided all the houses/huts, stretching from the neighbourhood known as “Genb Sefer” up to

the area called Wolkait Bole (Kebele 1 Ketena 1) which is largely resided by ethnic Amharas.

They detained up to 60 people they profiled as Amhara and Wolkait and who were said to use

Sudanese SIM cards on their mobile phones and destroyed said SIM cards. Ethiopian SIM

cards had already stopped working by then and the motive for confiscating and destroying the

Sudanese SIM cards was to prevent any communications or call for help during the attack,

according to testimony of the people in the area. Women and children of Tigrayan ethnic

origin were made to leave the town a few hours ahead of the attack.

On the same day (November 9 th , 2020), around 3:00 P.M., the local police, militia and the

informal Tigray youth group called “Samri” returned to “Genb Sefer” where the majority of

people of Amhara ethnic origin live and began the attack against civilians.

According to eyewitnesses and families of victims who spoke with EHRC, the first act

committed by the perpetrators was to execute an ethnic Amhara former soldier called Abiy

Tsegaye in front of his family and outside his house and set the house on fire. Afterwards,

they threw his body into the fire. Residents said Abiy Tsegaye was a former soldier and

militia member who had declined a request to re-join the militia as tensions began to rise.

They surmise that this might be why he was targeted. The victim’s wife and eyewitnesses

have given a detailed account of how the group of perpetrators forced Abiy Tsegaye out of

his house and had him shot in front of his family by a local militia and former colleague

called Shambel Kahsay, before throwing his body into the raging fire that engulfed their

house. The EHRC team also visited said house, still smouldering, and the area around it, still

heavy with burned body smoke.

How the massacre of civilians unfolded

Immediately after the attack on Abiy Tsegaye’s house, members of Samri, with the help of the

local police and militia, moving from house to house and from street to street, began a cruel

and atrocious rampage on people they pre-identified/profiled as Amharas and Wolkaits. They

killed hundreds of people, beating them with batons/sticks, stabbing them with knives,

machetes and hatchets and strangling them with ropes. They also looted and destroyed

properties.

While Samri, comprised of several groups consisting of 20 to 30 youth, each accompanied by

an estimated 3 to 4 armed police and militia, carried out the massacre, police and militia –

strategically posted at street junctions – aided and directly participated in the carnage by

shooting at those who attempted to escape.

It has been made apparent that the attack was ethnicity based and specifically targeted men the

attackers profiled through, amongst other things, identification cards, as Amharas and

Wolkaits; but a certain number of people from other ethnic groups have also been killed.

Moreover, it was men who were the specific targets in the attacks. While it can be verified

that women and children were spared, some women, including mothers who have tried to

shield their families, have suffered physical and mental injuries. Eyewitnesses also said

women received threats from the perpetrators that “tomorrow, they will come after the

women. It will be their turn”.

EHRC spoke with victims who suffered grave physical and mental injuries, including people

whose bodies were maimed by sharp objects or severely bludgeoned, as well as others who

were dragged on the ground with their necks tied to a rope. The team also talked to survivors

who describe how the attackers tied them to other people before attacking and of being the

only ones to come out alive. The fact that the main target of the attack, the neighborhood of

Genb Sefer is an area where, as mentioned earlier, laborers live together in large numbers,

made it possible for the perpetrators to attack between 10 and 15 people at once in a single

house; thereby aggravating the heavy toll.

While it is not possible yet to verify the exact numbers of the dead, the physically injured

and/or those who suffered property damage, the members of the Burial Committee, set up

after the attack, eyewitnesses and other local sources, estimate a minimum of 600 have been

killed and say the number is likely to be higher still. A mismatch between the large number of

bodies and limited burial capacity meant that burial took three days. EHRC has visited one

mass burial site and seen bodies still scattered on streets. Locals also said that the bodies the

perpetrators dragged to and hid in the bushes and “desert plains” outside the town were not

picked up yet and were therefore not included in the estimates. During the visit, the

Commission’s team also noted that the pungent smell of decaying bodies still lingered in the

air.

Survivors told EHRC that they managed to escape by hiding inside roof openings, pretending

to be dead after severe beatings, fleeing to and hiding in the “desert plains” and, for a few of

them, by hiding inside the nearby Abune Aregawi Church. The attack which began on

November 9 th at around 3:00 p.m. went on throughout the night until the perpetrators left in

the early hours of November 10th . The entry into the city of the Ethiopian National Defence

Forces at around 10:00 a.m. made it possible to start the process of getting medical help to

victims.

The Commission visited victims with grave physical injuries as they received treatment in

hospitals in Abrhajira, Sanja and Gondar.

Humane acts in the midst of inhumanity

Victims have also explained to EHRC that even though this atrocious massacre was carried

out by Samri, a Tigrayan youth group, other residents, who were Tigrayan themselves, helped

several of them survive by shielding them in their homes, in churches and in farms.

An exemplary instance is the case of a Tigrayan woman who hid 13 people in her house first,

before leading them to a nearby farm. She went as far as staying with them the whole night in

case the group came back in search of them. Another is also of a Tigrayan woman who was

hit on the arm with a machete while trying to wrestle a man away from attackers who set him

on fire.

Atrocity Crimes against Civilians

The overall conduct and the results thereof, all point to the fact that the Maikadra attack is not

a simple criminal act but is rather a premeditated and carefully coordinated grave violation of

human rights. More specifically,

• The perpetrators killed hundreds of people with full intent, a plan and preparation,

• The conduct was committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a

civilian population,

• The perpetrators knew that the conduct was part of or intended the conduct to be part of a

widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population,

• The conduct took place in the context of an armed conflict between the Federal

Government’s National Defence Forces and the Tigray Regional Government’s security

forces while the latter were retreating following a defeat; and perpetrators targeted civilian

residents of Maikadra they profiled based on their ethnic origin,

• During the conduct, the local security apparatus in charge helped and collaborated with the

group known as Samri, responsible for the attacks while the former aided and

participated in the attacks instead of protecting civilians from harm.

From the above, EHRC is of the view that what transpired in Maikadra on November 9th,

2020 including the killings, bodily and mental injury, as well as the destruction that went on

throughout night and morning, the overall conduct and results thereof, strongly indicate the

commission of grave human rights violations which may amount to crimes against humanity

and war crimes. The full extent of the evidence and elements of the crime will be examined in

detail in the full report.

When such grave human rights violations occur, all direct and indirect perpetrators at all

levels must be duly investigated and held to account before the law.

Ongoing human rights concerns that require urgent attention and recommendations

• EHRC has learned that at least up to November 14 th , 2020, people who have escaped from

or were injured by the attacks were still in hiding in the “desert plains” around Maikadra

or had sought shelter in the towns nearby. Among them are also ethnic Tigrayans who fear

retaliatory measures. While EHRC has learned that some of them are returning to

Maikadra over these last few weeks of the month of November, the safety of those who

remain in hiding is of concern. It is therefore imperative to return these displaced persons.

Similarly, the damage caused needs to be documented in a more systematic manner

(Those who have lost their lives and those who have suffered physical injury and/or

property damage need to be identified and the information gathered appropriately

recorded. )

• The residents of Maikadra are in complete shock, grief and psychological trauma from the

attack and the destruction and the separation of family members that followed. When the

EHRC team visited the town, the streets were still lined with bodies yet to be buried. The

psychological and health impacts on the residents is of concern.

• Because the attack specifically targeted men and most of the victims are heads of

households/breadwinners for their families, a shortage of basic necessities has arisen. The

need for basic necessities, in particular of women, children, and breast-feeding mothers, is

increasing by the day. Moreover, if the harvest is not carried out soon, it might add to the

humanitarian crisis. It is, therefore, essential to invite humanitarian organisations into the

affected area and to provide the support necessary to allow return and

recovery/rehabilitation/redress of residents.

• Maikadra Residents of Tigrayan ethnic origin who fear for their safety, including women

and children, have been assembled in a temporary shelter under the protection of

government security forces. Residents told EHRC that some perpetrators of the attacks

may have also taken refuge among the people in the shelter but EHRC could not

independently verify this information. While it is appropriate, in such unstable security

situations, to provide protection to groups especially vulnerable to various kinds of

threats, assembling them in one location, might, on the contrary, expose them further to

discriminatory treatment. It is therefore urgent to identify perpetrators, if any, hiding in

there and close the said shelter.

• The continued interruption of telecommunications, water and electricity supplies has

prevented the delivery of basic necessities, and the reunification of separated families. It

has also made provision of health and related services difficult. It requires urgent

attention.

• The media and influencers must ensure that the information they share regarding the

Maikadra attacks, is sensitive to the psychological pressure this puts on survivors and the

community in general.

One comment

  1. Offcourse the ethiopia human right agency funded and appointed by the so called “Ethiopian Federal Government” can be impartial, without question.

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