Rights group alleges ‘war crimes’ in Amhara: Ethiopian troops accused of attacking healthcare operations

Addis Abeba – A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has alleged that Ethiopian security forces, along with an allied militia group, have conducted extensive attacks on medical professionals, patients, and healthcare facilities in the Amhara region since August 2023. According to the rights organization, these actions constitute “war crimes.”

The 66-page report, titled “‘If the Soldier Dies, It’s On You’: Attacks on Medical Care in Ethiopia’s Amhara Conflict,” documents what the organization describes as war crimes committed through the targeting of healthcare operations during the conflict between the federal government and the non-state militia, Fano.

“Ethiopian federal forces operating with near impunity are disregarding civilian lives by attacking medical facilities that are providing desperately needed care,” Laetitia Bader, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, is quoted as stating in the report.

The allegations are based on remote interviews Human Rights Watch researchers conducted between August 2023 and May 2024 with 58 individuals, including victims, eyewitnesses, medical staff, and aid workers impacted by the situation in Amhara.

The report’s authors also analyzed satellite imagery, verified videos, and photographs to corroborate accounts.

One incident cited is an apparent drone strike on a clearly marked ambulance in the town of Wegel Tena on 30 November that allegedly killed at least four civilians. “All the medications in the ambulance burned,” a doctor is quoted as saying after the attack.

The report alleges that in at least 13 towns within the Amhara region, soldiers of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) have beaten, arbitrarily arrested, and intimidated medical professionals for treating individuals suspected of being Fano fighters.

One medical worker recalls being detained and interrogated for days by a colonel who accused them of being a “Fano doctor,” stating, “He said [the Fano] are not humans… they are monsters.”

Human Rights Watch claims federal forces obstructed access to hospitals and clinics by wrongfully detaining patients suspected of Fano ties, creating widespread fear. “We have shortages of oxygen and medication, and since there is no power, we are struggling,” a doctor at a hospital is quoted as telling researchers.

The fighting has severely disrupted the delivery of medical supplies and humanitarian aid efforts, the report alleges. At least nine aid workers have been killed since August 2023 while trying to transport essential medicines and equipment amid acute shortages at facilities.

Amhara regional health officials have acknowledged that the conflict has caused significant damage to the healthcare system, though they attribute some of the destruction to “extremist forces.”

Human Rights Watch states it shared its findings with the Ethiopian government last month but has not received any public response as of the report’s release on Tuesday.

In November 2023, Addis Standard reported that clashes in the Amhara region had disrupted essential medical supply chains, causing significant distress to hospitals. The report indicates that the ongoing conflicts have severely disrupted vital supply lines, resulting in acute shortages of medical supplies in hospitals.

Regional health officials expressed their concerns to Addis Standard, revealing that health institutions in the region are struggling with shortages of crucial medicines for chronic illnesses such as diabetes as well as laboratory diagnostic reagents.

Andualem Geremew, the medical director of Debre Markos General Hospital, highlighted a particular concern regarding shortages of medicines for chronic conditions like diabetes.

Andualem attributed these shortages to road closures caused by fighting in surrounding districts, which have prevented the delivery of adequate supplies from the federal and regional governments.

The HRW’s report also accuses the Ethiopian forces of violating international humanitarian law, which prohibits attacking civilians and civilian objects like hospitals and affords special protections for healthcare workers, patients, and transports during conflicts.

In its findings, Human Rights Watch calls on Ethiopian authorities to immediately halt alleged attacks on healthcare in Amhara and strengthen legal frameworks protecting medical operations.

It urges Ethiopia’s international partners to demand accountability, resume independent rights monitoring, and increase support for rehabilitating damaged health infrastructure. AS

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