Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) extrajudicially executed civilians in Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara regional state, and in some cases denied family members the right to bury their loved ones, Amnesty International said in a new briefing today.

The briefing, titled “We Thought They Would Fight With Those They Came To Fight, – Extra-judicial executions in Bahir Dar by ENDF soldiers,” documents how ENDF soldiers extrajudicially executed six civilians in Abune Hara and Lideta neighbourhoods of Kebele 14 area on 8 August 2023.

Two months later, on 10 and 11 October, members of the ENDF extrajudicially executed another six men, including at least five civilians, in the city’s Seba Tamit neighbourhood.

The human rights impact of the conflict in Amhara region has been slow to emerge due to an internet shutdown, partial communications blackouts and an ongoing sweeping state of emergency that is impacting freedom of speech and media, and fear of reprisals.

“The government of Ethiopia should urgently open effective independent investigations into human rights abuses in the context of the ongoing armed conflict in Bahir Dar and throughout the Amhara region. Where there is sufficient evidence, those suspected of committing the violations must be prosecuted in trials that fulfil international fair trial standards without recourse to the death penalty.” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

Serious violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), as documented in this briefing, may amount to war crimes which are a crime under international law. Extrajudicial executions are also violations of the right to life protected under international human rights law.

“In Ethiopia, systemic impunity continues to embolden perpetrators of crimes in the absence of credible justice and accountability for serious abuses that constitute crimes under international law. It is time to put an end to this pervasive lack of justice accountability nationwide.

THE AUGUST EXTRAJUDICIAL EXECUTIONS IN ABUNE HARA AND LIDETA

According to eyewitnesses and family members, the victims were killed from bullet wounds shot at close range.

One of the people extrajudicially executed was Yitateku Ayalew, who was shot dead by an ENDF soldier at her home near Lideta, according to a number of witnesses including Biniyam*, a 17-year-old relative. Biniyam said Yitateku was baking injera on the morning of 8 August when they started to hear gunshots.

“We started hearing gunshots around 8 am from the Mulugeta Real Estate side. People in the compound asked Yitateku to stop baking injera in the compound and return home. She said, ‘My son has no breakfast, and I must finish’. She refused to listen. Around 9.15 am, a group of soldiers came running. I think they were chasing someone on the street. Then they started to shoot towards the compound and hit Yitateku and one other person. They shot through a hole on the fence and left.”

Other victims are Aynew Defresh, a 55-year-old trader and his two sons, Kassahun and Abraham. The three men were shot dead on the street as they walked home from church. A family member said that when they called Aynew’s phone, an individual they believed to be from the ENDF picked up and said, “It was a small accident”. Family members eventually took all three bodies home.

THE OCTOBER EXTRAJUDICIAL EXECUTIONS IN SEBA TAMIT

Two months after the first fighting in Bahir Dar, on 10 October, fighting broke out again in other parts of the city, mainly in the Seba Tamit area.

Amnesty International has verified the extrajudicial execution of six people, by ENDF soldiers on 10 and 11 October. Among them was a patient extrajudicially executed inside a health centre by ENDF soldiers. ENDF soldiers also beat and threatened health workers at gunpoint in the same health centre.

In the same area, ENDF soldiers extrajudicially executed three brothers and one of their neighbours on the morning of 11 October after entering the home of a 69-year-old Tadesse Mekonen. Three different people interviewed by Amnesty International said that ENDF soldiers killed Tadesse’s three sons and one person who rented a room inside his compound.

Kassa*, one of Tadesse’s relative who was with the family at the time of the attack, said they opened the door for the soldiers, and they [ENDF soldiers] escorted all male family members outside their compound. He said the ENDF soldiers started to cane the men before one of the soldiers said, “Don’t leave anyone; shoot all of them”.

According to Kassa, ENDF soldiers initially banned the family from recovering the bodies, so they had to wait until the soldiers left. Three witnesses said the bodies were lying on the street from 9 am to 4 pm. Kassa said the family had to hide and bury the bodies at a different church, instead of a closer church where they are members of the congregation.

Amnesty International asked every interviewee how they identified perpetrators as ENDF. Most of them said that the ENDF had been active in Bahir Dar for three months before the fighting broke out and that they could recognize their uniform. Some said the ENDF asked questions such as “Bring the weapon; do you support Fano?” to victims or their families.

Over one year after the hostilities in Tigray ceased, ENDF soldiers continue to violate human rights and international humanitarian laws in another armed conflict setting.

“Ethiopian authorities must ensure that allegations of violations of crimes under international law since the end of 2020 perpetrated by the ENDF and allied forces are investigated and brought before a court of law.

“This is time to bring Ethiopia back to regional and international scrutiny. The country’s partners, including members of the United Nations Human Rights Council, must take immediate steps to resume their scrutiny of the human rights situation in Ethiopia and establish a process to follow up on the findings of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE).”

On 9 February 2024, Amnesty International shared its preliminary findings with the Ministry of Justice with copy to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. At the time of writing, the organization had not received a response.

Background

In August 2023, a non-international armed conflict broke out in Amhara region between the ENDF and Fano militias. The previous allies, turned foes, had previously fought together in Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The fighting followed the November 2022 cessation of hostilities agreement (CoHA), between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and an April 2023 federal government decision to integrate regional special forces into federal forces. Disgruntled by this decision, members of the Amhara Special Police Force (ASPF) joined the Fano militia.

On 1 August 2023, the ENDF issued a public warning to a group it addressed as “disturbing the country’s peace in the name of Fano. On 2 August 2023, residents in some parts of Amhara region reported clashes between the ENDF and Fano militia to the media.

On 4 August 2023, the Ethiopian government declared a six-month state of emergency with nation-wide application, following increased violence in Amhara region, which was extended further for four months on 2 February 2024.

Read Amnesty’s latest reports on Ethiopia, and our previous reports on Amhara region.

Read the briefing here.

* We have changed the names of the witnesses to protect their identity.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Amnesty International.

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