At least 750 civilians were killed or executed in Ethiopia’s Amhara and Afar regions in the second half of 2021, the country’s rights body has said.
In a report released on Thursday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission also catalogued widespread abuses, including torture and gang rape and enforced disappearances.
It said at least 403 civilians died and 309 were injured in air raids, drone attacks and heavy artillery fire since Tigrayan rebels fighting government forces launched an offensive into the neighbouring regions of northern Ethiopia in July last year.
At least 346 civilians also lost their lives in extrajudicial killings carried out by the warring parties, including Tigrayan fighters, government forces and their allies, added the EHRC, a state-affiliated independent body.
It also accused Tigrayan rebels of widespread abuses, such as gang rape, torture, looting and destroying public facilities such as hospitals and schools in the two regions bordering Tigray.
“Tigray Forces committed widespread, cruel, and systematic sexual and gender-based violence including gang rape against women of different ages including girls and elderly women in parts of Afar and Amhara regions under their control,” it said.
The EHRC also accused federal and local security forces in Amhara and Afar of widespread arbitrary detentions.
More than 2,400 health facilities including hospitals in the two regions had ceased operation “as a result of the destruction, damage and pillage they sustained”, the report said, while more than 1,000 schools were destroyed and another 3,220 damaged.
The conflict in the north erupted in November 2020 when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent forces into Tigray to topple the governing Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a move he said came in response to the rebel group’s attacks on army camps.
After initially losing control of Tigray’s cities and towns, the TPLF regrouped and retook the region in June, then launched offensives into Afar and Amhara.
In November 2021 the rebels claimed to be advancing on the capital Addis Ababa, but the government launched a counter-offensive, retaking lost territory in Amhara and Afar.
A month after, the UN agreed to set up an independent investigation into rights abuses in Ethiopia – a move strongly opposed by the Ethiopian government.
Although the fighting has eased, the UN reported on Monday that at least 304 civilians had been killed in air raids in the north, particularly Tigray, since November.
The war in Africa’s second-most populous country has killed thousands of people and, according to the UN and the United States, has driven hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation.