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Amnesty International urges global probe into civilian killings in Merawi, Amhara region

On 29 January, 2024, a reported minimum of 50 individuals in Merawi town, situated within the Amhara Regional State, allegedly fell victim to fatal actions by government forces, as characterized by residents as an “execution” (Photo: Amnesty International)

Addis Abeba – Amnesty International has urged the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to resume its scrutiny of Ethiopia following reports of killings of civilians by the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) in Merawi town, Amhara region.

The human rights organization called for African and global authorities to investigate the reported deaths as potential war crimes and extrajudicial executions after clashes between ENDF and Fano on 29 January, 2024.

According to Amnesty International, residents reported that ENDF soldiers rounded up local men from homes, shops, and streets on the eve of the St. Mary feast on 30 January, shooting and killing scores of people. While unable to independently verify exact numbers, Amnesty cited consistent accounts from multiple sources of over 50 people killed.

Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, expressed concern over the increasing frequency of mass killings in Ethiopia. “Mass killings are becoming shockingly common in Ethiopia. Last year, UN investigators reported more than 48 ‘large-scale killings’ only in Tigray since 2020. The lack of credible efforts by the Ethiopian government to ensure justice for the families of those killed and prevent such atrocities adds insult to injury,” Chagutah stated.

The organization said it has interviewed 13 individuals and analyzed video footage and satellite imagery corroborating the presence of bodies and burned vehicles. Its findings were shared with the Ethiopian government on March 21st, but no response has been received yet.

In the aftermath of the incident, Addis Standard reported that a minimum of 50 individuals were purportedly killed by government forces in what residents described as an “execution.” The victims encompassed children and women, spanning ages ranging from 14 to 96 years old.

One week after the incident, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued its preliminary report, revealing that a minimum of 45 civilians had been subjected to extrajudicial execution “by government security forces” on allegations of “supporting Fano”

Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called upon the United Nations and the African Union to contemplate the suspension of fresh deployments of the ENDF into international peacekeeping operations following allegations of the alleged involvement of ENDF commanders in the “summary execution of several dozen civilians” in Merawi town.

The Ethiopian government has refuted allegations of extrajudicial killings. While Legesse Tulu, the Minister of State for Communication Services, acknowledged the occurrence of a confrontation between the ENDF and the non-state militia, Fano, within the town, he asserted that the defense forces “did not target any civilians” and that the military acted in “self-defense.”

Amnesty International said the absence of international oversight has further emboldened the government and criticized the expiration of the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) in October 2023 without extension. The ICHREE was established by the HRC in 2021.

The rights group further criticized HRC members, particularly those from the European Union, for ignoring pleas to continue ICHREE’s mandate given the ongoing risk of atrocity crimes in the country.

“Claims by the Ethiopian government that accountability has already been achieved for crimes committed in the war in northern Ethiopia demonstrate a lack of political commitment to genuine justice and accountability,” Chagutah said.

Amnesty International has called on the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Working Group to investigate the alleged crimes and urged the Ethiopian government to facilitate country visits by these mechanisms.

“Ethiopians cannot wait for justice any longer. Given continued violations in the Amhara region and the lack of commitment to justice nationally, UN member states should act to reinstate HRC scrutiny of the situation in Ethiopia,” Chagutah emphasized. AS

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