EHRC Press Release: Ongoing Human Rights Violations in Amhara Region's Armed Conflict
Disclaimer: This is an English translation of an Amharic Press Release Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and is intended solely for information purposes.
Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
Amhara Region:- Human rights violations that have resulted in the context of armed conflict which has lasted for months
Monday, October 30, 2023 - Press Release
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has on various occasions issued press statements calling for immediate action to achieve cessation of hostilities including pursuing peaceful resolution and the need for protection of civilians following widespread human rights violations in the context of the war in Amhara Region. The Commission has closely followed human rights violations and impacts on social activity as a result of the war. Information was gathered in this regard from speaking to residents in conflict-affected localities, eyewitnesses, victims/survivors and family members of victims.
At the time of this statement’s preparation, armed conflict is ongoing in most woredas of the region and since the month of July 2023 (Hamle 2015 EC) to different extents and at various times, armed conflict has been reported in all zones of Amhara Region. In addition, these areas or woredas at various times have been under the control of government security forces and at times under another armed group (commonly referred to as the Fano). The armed conflict at times has involved use of heavy artillery and other times air/drone strikes (by government forces).
During times of conflict, use of air/drone weapons and heavy artillery has resulted in killings and injuries to civilians, and at times has forced residents to leave their homes to escape attack. For instance, on Monday, October 16th, 2023 (Tikimit 5, 2016 EC) a drone strike was carried out on Metihteh Bila town of Berehet Woreda in North Shewa Zone, which resulted in the killings of several civilians including a 19-month-old child and injuries to other civilians; on Thursday, October 19th, 2023 (Tikimit 8, 2016 EC) a drone strike on Debre Markos city (East Gojjam Zone) killed at least 8 civilians; on Thursday, October 19th, 2023 (Tikimit 3, 2016 EC) heavy artillery bombardment of Dembecha town (West Gojjam Zone) resulted in the killing of many civilians and injuries of other civilians, according to local residents and eyewitnesses.
It has been possible to verify that in several areas, residents were entirely displaced from their homes and are currently facing dire circumstances. Starting on Sunday, September 17, 2023 (Meskerem 6, 2016 EC) residents of Awra Godana in Minjar Shenkora Woreda (North Shewa Zone) were displaced from their homes, and over 3,000 residents became sheltered in a school and outside (under trees) in Amora Bete Kebele; and an unknown number of people displaced from Metehara and Awash were dispersed across various other areas. Though a limited amount of support was provided to the displaced people from host communities and at least one charity, it has been possible to verify they are not receiving adequate support and their circumstance is dire. Following displacement of the residents, their crops were destroyed, their property was looted, parts of their homes were dismantled and stolen (e.g. roofs and doors), and more recently forces from a neighboring region (Oromia Region Forces) began demolishing their homes using construction equipment according to local residents and government officials that spoke to EHRC.
In a previous statement issued on Sunday, September 17, 2023 (Meskerem 4, 2016 EC), the Commission had expressed concern over extrajudicial killings reported in various localities within the region. EHRC has received credible reports that government security force personnel have continued to perpetrate extrajudicial killings. The Commision has received credible reports that in areas where fighting took place, government security forces would carry out searches on roads and in door-to-door searches during which a large number of civilians were seized and subject to extrajudicial killings, often providing reasons such as “you are Fano supporters, you are providing information to Fano, surrender your weapons, we heard sounds of gunfire so give us information about the direction it came from.” As an example, on October 10 and 11, 2023 (Meskerem 29 and 30, 2016 EC) many civilians including three brothers were killed in the Sebatamit area of Bahir Dar city; on Tuesday, October 10, 2023 (Meskerem 29, 2016 EC) over 12 abinet students (kindergarteners) were massacred in the Filseta Debre Maryam Church in Adet town of North Gojjam Zone in addition to other civilians; on Saturday, October 14, 2023 (Tikimit 3, 2016 EC) at least 8 civilians were killed during house-to-house searches in Ammanuel town of East Gojjam Zone. In another instance, on Friday, September 29, 2023 (Meskerem 18, 2016 EC) in an area called Motta Ber in Gindewoin town of Goncha Siso Enese Woreda of East Gojjam Zone, a man injured with a bullet wound was traveling with his mother and sister to a health institution on a bajaj when government security forces stopped the vehicle and forced the passengers to dismount saying, “he was injured when fighting us” before shooting and killed all four people (including the bajaj driver) according to residents that spoke to the Commission.
In Bahir Dar, Finote Selam, Gonder and Woldia cities, several civilians and some hors de combat that were receiving medical care after injury during the war, were forcibly removed from care by government security forces and were taken to unknown locations, and eventually some were returned several days later whereas others remained missing, their whereabouts unknown at the time of preparing this statement.
On another side, attacks against government officials including killings and abductions have been carried out by armed forces. For example, on Monday, October 9, 2023 (Meskerem 28, 2016 EC) the Amhara Region Council Legal, Justice and Administrative Affairs Standing Committee Chairman and other government officials were killed while traveling from Bahir Dar to Debre Tabor in the area near Alember town. In various areas of the region attacks were also carried out on prisons and police stations which resulted in suspects being freed.
The Commission's investigations and information obtained from government institutions revealed in the context of the war, there has been a pattern of acts of rape which are concerning and require urgent investigation and warrant action. Starting from the month of July 2023 (Hamle 2016 EC) and until the time of this statement at least 200 rape victims have been registered in health institutions and victims include internally displaced women and female medical professionals.
The expansion of the war has also resulted in lootings, destruction of crops and casualties against civilians, private institutions and developmental institutions. Another concerning development is children being unable to go to school as educational institutions in many areas have been converted into military camps. The disruption of social service institutions and medical facilities has exposed IDPs and refugees in Amhara Region to further human rights violations as expressed by professional associations and health institutions. For example, schools in Wereta and Ibnat in South Gonder were converted to military camps; as was the case for the Dejazmach Tessema Irgetae Primary and Secondary School in Shewa Robit town; the Jewiha Primary School in Jewiha town; and the Belay Zeleke Preparatory School in Bichena, which all continue to be used for military purposes up to the time of this report's publication. The looting and attack of Adet Hospital forced it to stop providing services, and hospitals such as the Finote Selam Hospital and the Tibebe Giyon Hospital in Bahir Dar city were forced to shut down after hospital workers and patients were subject to harassment, beatings and arrests.
In most areas of Amhara Region at various times there were restrictions imposed on activity/movement, curfews and road closures which disrupted commercial and social activities contributing to shortage of goods and services, inflation and related problems. In various areas, farming activities were also stopped, restrictions were imposed on cash flow, wages were stopped in several institutions which have caused significant social and economic impacts to residents. In addition, in North Gonder and Wag Hemra areas a large number of people are in need of emergency food assistance for multiple reasons. At the time of this statement's publication in most parts of the region, internet services have been shut off and telecommunications services have been shut off in areas with active warfare.
EHRC's Chief Commissioner Dr. Daniel Bekele has warned,
"the Commission has repeatedly called on all stakeholders to prioritize peaceful solutions to achieve a lasting resolution to the conflict, the combatant parties should refrain from targeting civilians and civil properties, public institutions and infrastructure, to provide lawful standards of treatment to captured armed force personnel and other suspects, to immediately investigate all cases of rape and extrajudicial killings and to hold perpetrators accountable, and to immediately ensure institutions can resume providing public services."
"we call for IDPs to be given emergency humanitarian assistance as needed, and to identify the core reasons for their displacement and find a means to resettle them to their homes permanently."