Groans can be heard from a seriously wounded man squirming on the floor between two corpses.
Chatting as they wander through the aftermath of what appears to be a mass execution of civilians in the Tigray region, soldiers laugh and joke among themselves.
Off to one side they spot a young man who seems to have survived by pretending to be dead.
“You should have finished off the survivors,” the cameraman says in Amharic, Ethiopia’s lingua franca, in an apparent rebuke of the perpetrators of the massacre.
These are scenes from a video clip obtained exclusively by The Telegraph showing the first evidence of what appears to be a war crime carried out by the Ethiopian army. Around 40 bodies in civilian clothes can be seen in the four-minute clip.
Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have for months been battling troops loyal to the former Tigrayan regional government in a war that has left thousands dead and millions on the brink of starvation.
The Ethiopian federal government has imposed a mass communications black-out in Tigray, meaning little is known about the conflict and making it hard to verify a flood of accounts of war crimes from survivors.
The video footage seen by The Telegraph, which is too graphic to publish, has circulated online in shorter form among local journalists and bloggers – deemed rare proof of the alleged brutality of Addis Ababa’s forces.
The Telegraph was able to geolocate the video to Debre Abay monastery in central Tigray – about 175 miles west of Tigray’s capital, Mekele. It has also confirmed that the clip has not been doctored.
Although the timing of the apparent massacre was not possible to ascertain, a pro-Tigrayan blog reported Ethiopian soldiers had killed 100 civilians at the same monastery on Jan 5.
Experts who were sent the footage called on the Ethiopian government to launch an immediate investigation.
“This is disturbing footage to watch and I would expect the Federal Government to allow the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission full access to establish the facts and to ensure that there is proper accountability for these killings” said Dr Alex Vines, Africa Director at Chatham House.
“It is time to move beyond warnings and statements of concern to investigations and legal proceedings to hold perpetrators accountable for mass atrocities,” added Judd Devermont, Africa Director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington DC.
Ethiopia’s state-run Human Rights Commission (EHRC) confirmed to The Telegraph that they were examining the shorter clip of the massacre that has circulated online.
“The EHRC is aware of the purported video and is working to verify its authenticity,” said the organisation’s spokesman, Aaron Maasho. “We have a team on the ground and will investigate the incident should we confirm its veracity.”
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s press secretary, Billene Seyoum, did not respond to requests for comment.
The cameraman in the footage, presumed to be an Ethiopian soldier, is heard speaking in an accent from southern or western Ethiopia.
At one point, he interrogates a survivor of the carnage, who is lying on the floor covered in dirt from head to toe.
“Why were you here in the first place?” the cameraman barks.
“I live in the home over there,” the young man – barely audible – replies in Tigray’s local Tigrigna language, gesturing towards nearby homes. The cameraman responds with a barrage of curses.
At one point, off-screen civilians plead for mercy as soldiers weigh up whether to kill another survivor seen trying to limp away to safety.
Eventually, they agree to leave him.
The video emerged after The Telegraph published dozens of Tigrayan refugees’ accounts of killings, artillery bombardment and looting in Tigray in November.
In recent weeks, human rights organisations and aid workers have issued reports that many in Tigray are now facing starvation, with people already eating leaves to survive or dying in their sleep.
The United Nations Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention said that it has received multiple reports of extra-judicial killings, mass executions, sexual violence, looting and impeded humanitarian access. Earlier this month the body warned that the atrocities in Tigray were likely to get worse.
Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Ethiopian federal forces carried out apparently indiscriminate shelling of urban areas in the Tigray region, including Mekele, a city of half a million people, in November 2020 in violation of the laws of war.
The Telegraph was sent about two dozen photos, also too graphic to publish, showing the bodies of children blown to pieces by the Ethiopian federal government’s artillery barrage of the city.
In addition to Tigray’s internet and phone services being shut down for the entirety of the war, journalists and aid workers have been barred from the region.
The resulting humanitarian disaster has left 4.5 million people in need of emergency assistance. A coalition of Tigray’s political opposition recently stated that more than 50,000 people might have died since fighting began on November 4th.
In November last year, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, declared victory after his troops’ capture of Mekele – but sporadic fighting continues.
Despite the lack of communication, journalists and rights groups have been able to confirm that forces on both sides of the war have committed atrocities against civilians.
Retreating Tigrayan forces killed hundreds of civilians in the town of Maykadra on November 9th, using blunt objects, according to rights group Amnesty International.