Amnesty’s findings should be taken seriously, EHRC
Amnesty International rebuffed accusations by the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) that the methodology it employed in the report it released on incidents in Axum relied on scanty information.
Speaking to The Reporter, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Head on Ethiopia and Eritrea, Fisseha Tekle stated that they used standard methodology in preparing the report.
Fisseha pointed out that all of the 41 informants are eyewitnesses who provided firsthand accounts of the incidents in Axum. He further noted that their names have been changed.
MoFA pointed out on its press statement on Amnesty’s report on the incidents in Axum Friday February 25, 2021 that “One of the sources cited in the report is found not to be a priest as he claimed, but a deceptive person who lives in Boston.”
Fisseha pointed out that the change of names could probably have led to such comments from the Ministry, further explaining that the area codes clearly indicate informants’ location.
As to the refugees in Sudan, he remarked, the consistent accounts of different informants indicate their authenticity. “Consistencies in the names of people and description of events between informants in refugees camps in Sudan and the city of Axum indicate the viability of their accounts,” Fisseha noted.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and Amnesty International became at loggerheads after the global human rights organization accused Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of committing a war crime in Tigray region in a report it released on Friday February 25, 2021 entitled ‘ETHIOPIA: THE MASSACRE IN AXUM’.
Amnesty said the forces of the two countries were involved in extrajudicial executions, indiscriminate shelling and widespread looting of Axum city, and killing of civilians in over approximately 24-hour period on November 28-29, 2020.
MoFA, however, criticized the report saying it has a methodological error, accusing Amnesty of depending on scanty information gathered from refugees in Eastern Sudan and phone interviews with individuals in Axum.
According to Amnesty, Eritrean soldiers deliberately shot civilians on the street and carried out extrajudicial executions in retaliation for an earlier attack by a small number of local militiamen, joined by local residents armed with sticks and stones.
In the report, which Amnesty said is based on interviewees accounts of individuals – it accused Eritrean troops of operating in the Ethiopian city of Axum, Tigray, committing a series of human rights and humanitarian law violations, including killing hundreds of civilians in a time span of 10 days, between 19 and 29 November 2020.
Responding to the allegations of killings of civilians in Axum, EHRC, in its statement sent to The Reporter, quoted its Commissioner, Daniel Bekele (PhD) as saying, “Amnesty’s findings should be taken very seriously, and it would be a useful contribution for an ongoing investigation by EHRC throughout the Tigray region including Axum.”
EHRC further indicated that “While EHRC has not finalized its investigation, preliminary findings indicate the killing of an, as of yet, unknown number of civilians by Eritrean soldiers in the city of Axum, in retaliation for an earlier attack by TPLF soldiers who were joined by a small number of local residents.”
“EHRC has also learned the attack was carried out by Eritrean soldiers after the TPLF soldiers left the area,” the statement elaborated adding that the Commission is also investigating allegations of shelling in multiple places across Tigray region.
However, since the first weeks of the full-scale military operation against TPLF forces and militias started, there has been a broad speculation on those refugees who fled to Sudan.
Refugees who found shelter in Sudan at the earlier period of the operations were said to have been majority youth who were suspected to be assailants allegedly involved in the mass killing of more than 700 unarmed civilians believed to be ethnic Amharas in MaiKadra town.