“We are going to erase you from this land, this is our land, this is the last time a Tigrayan will live here”, promised, in November 2020, a special forces soldier from the Amhara region to a Tigrayan resident who was fleeing persecution. This unequivocal message is at the heart of the joint report made public on Wednesday 6 April by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW): entitled “Western Tigray is the scene of crimes against humanity”, it reports a methodical ethnic cleansing against the Tigrayans of Western Tigray.
In this 220-page investigation, for which 427 interviews were carried out over fifteen months, there are other sentences of the same kind, some dehumanizing, others calling directly for deportation and mass murder. As in Adebai, in July 2021, in an informal detention center in the city where Tigrayans are locked up. A guard, allied with the Amhara forces which now control Western Tigray, shouts at the prisoners: “You Tigrayans don’t deserve to breathe, you shouldn’t live, you are not human. »
At the center of what Amnesty and HRW describe as “war crimes and crimes against humanity” lies Western Tigray (or Wolkait), a strip of land 12,000 km2. This territory is, or rather was part of the Tigray region since 1991.
When, on that date, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) attached it to Tigray, it settled thousands of Tigrayans there and carried out a forced march of agrarian reform, benefiting party members, who became large landowners. land. Thousands of Amharas flee: by political dissidence or after the spoliation of their lands.
Destruction, expropriations and hate speech
When civil war broke out between the TPLF and the federal government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in November 2020, Amhara nationalist groups took their revenge. They manage to seize Wolkait in a few days, before, as shown by the work of the two NGOs, doing everything to erase the Tigrayan presence. The worldwho visited this territory twice – between November 2020 and July 2021 – was able to see the destruction, expropriations and hate speech targeting Tigrayans there.
The intimidation began as soon as the conquest, in November 2020, can we read in the report. “From now on, nothing is called Tigré here anymore.then threatened a commander of the Amhara special forces, Major Dejene Maru, to a crowd of Tigrayans in the town of Ali Goshu. don’t expect [à un retour de] previous administration (…). This is Amhara now. »
This town with a Tigrayan majority did not imagine that, three months later, on January 17, 2021, these same Amhara special forces were going to massacre around sixty people there, in cold blood, in retaliation for a defeat on the battlefield. This mass execution took place along the Tekeze River.
One of the survivors describes the cruelty of the executioners, when, to finish off the detainees, one of the Amhara commanders orders his men: “Tigrayans don’t die easily… shoot again!” » The Tekeze will become infamous in August 2021, when 136 bodies of Tigrayan detainees will be recovered from the Sudanese side of the border.
A massive deportation campaign
“Our objective was to establish the extent of what happened, explains Jean-Baptiste Gallopin, researcher for Amnesty International. We discovered that the campaign of ethnic cleansing was systematic. All of the testimonies allow us to say that the crimes against the Tigrayans were generalized and systematic. »
the “ethnic cleansing” Western Tigray, a term used as early as March 2021 by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was planned and executed. “The new Amhara authorities, the militiamen and the special forces have done everything possible to displace the Tigrayan populations”continues Mr. Gallopin.
The massacres, torture, arbitrary detentions, rapes, expropriations and looting are listed in the report, which also recounts the terror imposed on a daily basis: the prohibition to speak in the Tigrinya language or to obtain identity papers.
A key step in ethnic cleansing, the deportation campaign, partly carried out by bus, displaced at least 723,000 Tigrayans to the rest of the region between November 2020 and June 2021. In the city of Humera, an Amhara administrator says, with cynicism, in front of the inhabitants that “if the Tigreans want it, they can decide to leave on their own, otherwise we can also deport them…”.
The two NGOs also incriminate the federal army of Abiy Ahmed. “The federal forces are complicit, sometimes taking part in raids, holding checkpoints preventing Tigrayans from fleeing, or even by bombarding civilian areas”observes Mr. Gallopin.
While it is in operation reconquest on the international scene after more than a year of conflict, will the government of Addis Ababa respond to these accusations? Amnesty International and HRW report that detentions continue today in western Tigray in “lethal conditions”.