5 February 2021
Ethiopian and Eritrean officials have repeatedly denied that Eritrean forces are operating in Tigray. However, these denials are contradicted by eyewitness accounts. So conspicuous are the Eritrean military in Tigray that Eritrean soldiers have even attended meetings in which humanitarian workers negotiated access to Tigray with Ethiopian authorities.
Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRCE) has been consistently reporting that many thousands of troops from the Eritrean mechanised divisions, infantry, and a commando unit have been participating in the Tigray war since November 2020.
Eritrean forces have been accused of committing crimes in Tigray. Laetitia Bader, the Horn of Africa Director at Human Rights Watch said, “We are investigating credible reports of a whole range of abuses by the Eritrean forces in central Tigray, including extrajudicial executions of civilians, widespread looting and damage of public and private property, including hospitals.” She also called for “immediate international scrutiny, and a U.N. led investigation”. Josep Borrell, the EU foreign affairs chief, also said, “We receive consistent reports of ethnic-targeted violence, killings, looting, rapes, forceful return of refugees and possible war crimes.”
The Treatment of Eritrean refugees in the camps in Tigray by Eritrean military has already been fully reported by HRCE. Eritrean soldiers have committed many crimes in at least two of the camps, including the deliberate murders in Shimelba refugee camp of four unarmed refugees in one instance and eight unarmed civilians in another. There is evidence of the forced removal of thousands of Eritrean refugees at gunpoint from Shimelba and Hitsats camps, with horrific forced marches for days on end to Sheraro. There the refugees were forcibly loaded into trucks which took them, against their will, back to the very country they had fled. This behaviour by the Eritrean military is directly in contravention of all international codes and legal requirements on the treatment of refugees, which in particular forbid the refoulement of refugees to their country of origin. It is understood that both Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps have been deliberately burned to the ground, thereby destroying the only homes the refugees had, along with all their belongings.
It should be noted that the unelected leader of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, and the permanent officers and commanders in charge of the Eritrean military forces are primarily responsible for these atrocities. The great majority of the ranks are conscripts forced into the armed forces largely against their wills and drafted in large numbers to Tigray to be used as “expendable” troops. They are largely untrained and unable to disobey orders, on pain of death or torture. Witnesses report large numbers of these conscripted soldiers (male and female) are under the age of 20. It is reported that many have died in the fighting. These young conscripts are as much the victims of crimes and injustice as the Tigrayans and the refugees.
The Eritrean military is using the communications blackout to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against defenceless Tigrayan civilians and Eritrean refugees, killing and executing with impunity. HRCE condemns the alleged widespread looting, sexual violence, killing of civilians, destruction of property, crops and factories in Tigray by the Eritrean military forces, and objects most vehemently to the military’s deportation of tens of thousands of refugees at gunpoint against their will to the very country they fled from in danger of their lives.
HRCE calls on the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments to heed the call from the US State Department and ensure that all Eritrean military forces leave Tigray at once.
HRCE requests an independent investigation into events in Tigray since November 2020.
HRCE calls on the government of Ethiopia to ensure full protection for the Mai Aini and Adi-Harush refugee camps, and to guarantee that no Eritrean military personnel are allowed to enter them.
The UN Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights in Eritrea has already found evidence of crimes against humanity committed by the Eritrean authorities within Eritrea since 1991. Major crimes against humanity are now being committed by Eritrean forces in Tigray.
HRCE calls on the International Criminal Court to initiate investigations into these heinous crimes immediately. Justice requires that the governing regime in Eritrea, and President Afewerki in particular, face the consequences for the crimes that have been unleashed in Eritrea and Tigray.
HRCE calls upon all members of the United Nations to note the demand by the USA and to make urgent representations to the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to put an end to the “major violations of international law” being committed in Tigray by the Ethiopian Federal forces, Eritrean military and allied militias. It is a matter of life and death.
Member countries of the United Nations must speak out now against these crimes before many more thousands of civilians are killed and more Eritrean refugees are forcibly deported.
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
+44 (0) 7958 005 637