Mai Kadra massacre
|Mai Kadra massacre|
|Part of Tigray War|
|Location||Mai Kadra, Tigray Region, Ethiopia|
|Date||9–10 November 2020|
|Target||Locals and migrant workers (Amhara and Tigrayans per Amnesty;|
Amhara and Welkait per EHRC;
Tigrayans per refugees)
|Deaths||varying estimates from 600 to 1100|
|Perpetrators|| Samri kebele youths (per Amnesty, EHRC, EHRCO)|
Amhara Region Special Force (per Reuters, Vice, FT, AP, AFP);
The Mai Kadra massacre is one of the numerous massacres carried out in the war on Tigray. Ethnic cleansing and mass murders were carried out on 9–10 November 2020 in the town of Mai Kadra in the Tigray Region of northwestern Ethiopia, near the Sudanese border. Responsibility was attributed to youths from the Samri and other kebeles loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front, in preliminary investigations by Amnesty International (Amnesty), the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO); and to Amhara militias, in interviews conducted in Sudan by Reuters and the Financial Times and to both Amhara militias and the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) by Associated Press (AP), Vice, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and AfricaNews.
The killings took place amidst an armed conflict between the TPLF-led regional government and the federal government. Depending on sources, the killings occurred either before the troops of the ENDF entered the town or after the ENDF entered.
The victims have been described as "civilians, who appear to have been migrant laborers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive," particularly those hailing from outside the area.
The total death toll remains unclear, but according to Amnesty International, "likely hundreds" were killed. Two videos, which were analyzed by Amnesty International to prove that the massacre had taken place, show dozens of corpses with injuries caused by bladed weapons, like machetes. According to the EHRC, which described the massacre as a "widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population" at least 600 people were killed; EHRCO counted 1100 deaths. Most of the victims were Amhara according to the EHRC and EHRCO reports; refugees state either that the victims were Tigrayan or both Tigrayan and Amhara.
Throughout 2019 and 2020, tensions progressively increased between the Ethiopian federal government, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and the local government of the Tigray Region, led by Chief Administrator Debretsion Gebremichael, over allegations that members of the ruling Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which was the dominant force in Ethiopian politics after the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, were being unfairly targeted for prosecution by the central government, and misgivings of the Eritrea–Ethiopia peace deal, which the TPLF viewed as endangering its security.
Federal-state relations deteriorated considerably after the region held local elections in September 2020, which the TPLF claimed to have won in a landslide, despite the Ethiopian government having postponed elections until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the elections, both sets of governments proclaimed the other illegitimate and illegal; the federal government maintaining that the regional elections had been extra-constitutional and neither free nor fair, and the regional government insisting that the federal government did not uphold the constitution which stated that elections should occur every 5 years and that its mandate had expired, rendering its authority null and void.
In November 2020, open conflict broke out between the two governments when Tigray Region security forces allegedly attacked the headquarters of the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) in Mekelle. The federal government quickly launched an offensive to restore its authority, in concerted effort with regional security forces from the Amhara and Afar Regions. The Ethiopian government shut down communications in Tigray, access to the Internet was blocked, banking was closed for residents of Tigray, as was transportation to and from Tigray. The central government also imposed tight restrictions on access for aid and humanitarian agencies. Despite these calls,[clarification needed] the Ethiopian government prioritized securing of the region's border with Sudan and the border town of Humera, thereby forestalling any possibility of TPLF forces opening a cross-border supply route.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, an Ethiopian government agency, published its preliminary findings on 24 November, reporting that a few days before the attack, local militia (or "special force") and the police barred all exit points from Mai Kadra. Migrant workers, who mainly hailed from the neighboring Amhara Region, were additionally prohibited from going to their places of work or moving about the town. Checkpoints were established at the four main exit points by Tigrayan youths from the Samri and other kebeles in Humera. Residents who attempted to flee the town to the outlying farmlands or across the border to Sudan were forced back by the local security forces.
Claim: Samri kebele perpetrators
According to the EHRC and EHRCO reports, on the morning of 9 November, local police began going door-to-door in certain neighborhoods, particularly those where migrant workers lived, checking identity cards to identify non-Tigrayans, detaining at least 60 people who were found to be in possession of Sudanese SIM cards in their mobile phones.[a] According to survivors, this was done to prevent calls for help or other communications once the attack had started, as the federal government had already shut off Internet and mobile services to the region, meaning Ethiopian SIM cards did not work. Ethnic Tigrayan women and children were also told to leave the town shortly before the massacre.
Claim: Amhara militia/ENDF perpetrators
According to 24 refugees from Mai Kadra interviewed by former journalist Millete Birhanemaskel, the ENDF entered Mai Kadra on 9 November, prior to the massacre.
Reports on the attacks include two primary claims: that of local youth perpetrators loyal to the TPLF; and that of Amhara militia perpetrators. December reports suggest that both groups, plus Ethiopian federal forces, may have been involved in a series of massacres.
Claim: Samri kebele perpetrators
The killings started in the early afternoon of 9 November, at 11:00 in some areas, and in others around 15:00, when a former militiaman who had refused to get involved as tensions mounted was killed by a former colleague and his body burned along with his house, according to survivors, including the militiaman's wife. After this incident, the Samri kebele youths, in groups of 20 to 30 each, accompanied by 3 or 4 members of the local police and militia, went house-to-house killing people who had already been identified as ethnic Amharas or other minorities, "beating them with batons/sticks, stabbing them with knives, machetes and hatchets and strangling them with ropes", as well as looting properties. Because migrant workers were living up to 10 to 15 in a house, the death toll quickly escalated. Police and militiamen were posted at key street intersections, shooting anyone trying to escape the violence. Some people managed to survive by hiding in rafters, pretending to be dead, or successfully evading security forces and fleeing into the rural hinterland. Nevertheless, some people were followed into the outlying areas and killed there as well. Many ethnic Tigrayan residents however gave shelter to their neighbors, by hiding them in their homes, in churches and on farms. One woman first hid 13 people in her home, before leading them to a nearby farm, and another was struck by the Samri youths with a machete while trying to separate them from a man who had been lit on fire.
Fisseha Tekle was the Amnesty International researcher who first reported this massacre for Amnesty's preliminary report. Amnesty interviewed witnesses who had provided food to the ENDF. The witnesses said that forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) were responsible, apparently after they had fought against ENDF forces. Three people told Amnesty International that survivors of the massacre told them that they were attacked by members of Tigray Special Police Force and other TPLF members. According to witnesses interviewed by the EHRC, ethnic Amharas and local Wolkait people were the primary targets of the attack, but several members of other ethnic groups were also killed in the violence. Men were also specifically targeted over women and children, but many of them were physically injured and threatened with future attacks. The killings continued until the early hours of 10 November, when the perpetrators fled the town to avoid the advancing forces of the Ethiopian Army, which arrived late that morning.
Claim: Amhara militia/ENDF perpetrators
According to the refugees interviewed by Millete Birhanemaskel, the entry of the ENDF into Mai Kadra was followed by the entry of "200 to 300" gangs of Fano militia and another Amhara militia, Salug. The Fano and Salug were fought against by local Tigrayan forces, with many deaths, according to witnesses including Genet Haile, Teklehiwot Abraham, Haile Woldegiorgis, Amshalaka Woldegebriel and Abrahaley Yonas. Haile Woldegiorgis was taken from his home by the ENDF, who were convinced by 20–25 "gangsters who had bloody axes" to surrender him to them. Haile's ear was hit three times in the head with an axe by the gangsters, damaging his ear. He survived and left Mai Kadra.
The Tigrayans left the town centre to shelter in fields, while the Fano and Salug remained in the town centre, obtained medical and reported their version of the events.
A refugee, Barhat, aged 52, who had fled to Sudan and claimed to be present at the massacre recounted a different series of events to that initially reported by EHRC and EHRCO. She had fled from Mai Kadra and was interviewed by Reuters. Barhat stated that she fled after people from the Amhara region attacked ethnic Tigrayans. She stated that people from Amhara "killed anyone who said they were Tigrayan. They stole our money, our cattle, and our crops from our homes and we ran with just the clothing on our backs."
A Tigrayan student interviewed by the Financial Times after fleeing to Sudan, Abrahaley Menasew, had a head wound that he attributed to Amhara militias attacking him in Mai Kadra. Abrahaley stated that his head had been hit by an axe, that his "neck and wrist were slashed with a machete, ... and he almost lost his hand." He stated that the militia members "discussed whether to kill [him] or take [him] with them" before attacking him and believing him to be dead. Abrahaley stated that his Amhara friends had informed the militias of his location because of his Tigrayan ethnicity.
Messah Geidi, a refugee from Mai Kadra, attributed the killings to "the army", stating, "the army slaughtered the young people like sheep".
According to Amnesty, "scores", likely hundreds, were killed. Local media reported at least 500 fatalities. While the EHRC was unable to independently confirm death tolls, local funeral committees estimated at least 600 people had been killed, taking three days to be buried in mass graves, and that this number did not include people who had been killed in the outlying areas and had yet be buried. Victims were being treated in hospital as far away as Gonder. While most victims were men, several women had "suffered physical and mental injuries". EHRCO estimated 1100 deaths based on its own observations and data collection during 3–11 December 2020 visit.
Araqi Naqashi, a 48-year-old refugee stated that in an unnamed town, he "saw the bodies of people who had been slain thrown in the streets. Others who were injured were dragged with a rope tied to a rickshaw", further claiming that "the Tigrayans are being killed and chased down. Anything is looted, and our area was attacked with tanks". Local Sudanese in the vicinity claimed to have heard airstrikes, and witnesses said that some of the refugees were wounded and were getting medical help at a medical facility. One said that bombings had "demolished buildings and killed people" and that he "escaped, part running on foot and part in a car, afraid [that] civilians are being killed".
Refugees interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The New York Times stated that on arriving in Humera in early November, Amharan militias, including Fano, and the ENDF carried out massacres and beatings of Tigrayans.
Federal government point of view
The Ethiopian government, which has repeatedly offered to shelter refugees internally, has suggested that such reports may be disinformation, similarly to how ethnic Hutus fled the country following the Rwandan genocide, including the Interahamwe which perpetrated the genocide, so too have members of the Samri and security forces and are seeking to mislead the international press by presenting themselves as victims. The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed that the refugees in Sudan who shared their accounts of the conflict consisted of only young men with no women or children present, and suggested that the men could be the perpetrators of atrocities. The UNHCR estimated that over 70% of the refugees were women, children and elderly. In early December 2020, the federal government refused to allow independent international investigations to be conducted by humans rights bodies, claiming that to assume that the government could not investigate the events was "belittling the government" and that Ethiopia didn't "need a babysitter".
A witness said that of those who fled, many were women and children. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that the fighting in Ethiopia had prompted more than 11,000 people to flee into Sudan so far. Amnesty International Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, urged the government to restore all communications to Tigray as an act of accountability and transparency for its military operations in the region and allow unfettered access to humanitarian organizations and human rights monitors. TPLF was also urged to make clear to their commanders that deliberate attacks on civilians are prohibited. Tigray's leader Debretsion Gebremichael denied responsibility in a statement to Reuters, saying that "This is unbelievable ... this should be investigated," and accused Abiy of "creating facts on [the] ground".
EHRC and EHRCO
A group of investigators sent by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission visited Mai Kadra to investigate the mass killings between 14 and 19 November 2020, as part of its investigations into human rights violations after reports of ethnic cleansing. Its preliminary findings were released on 24 November. The EHRC report found that a massacre of civilians did indeed took place on 9 November, by a Tigrayan youth group from the Samri kebele aided by the then local administration security forces. EHRC Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele said, "The unimaginably atrocious crimes committed against civilians for no reason other than their ethnicity is heartbreaking. Yet we are consoled by the stories of Ethiopians who saw beyond ethnic origin to come to the aid of their compatriots in their time of need. These stories keep the hope of a return to peaceful coexistence going. It is now an urgent priority that victims are provided redress and rehabilitation, and that perpetrators involved directly or indirectly at all levels are held to account before the law". The EHRC stated that the evidence "strongly indicate[d] the commission of grave human rights violations which may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes".
The Ethiopian Human Rights Council visited Mai Kadra and the surrounding regions during 3–11 December 2020. It drew similar conclusions to those of the EHRC, but estimated the number of victims as 1100 and clarified that the term Samri referred to the neighbourhood where most of the youths directly responsible for the massacre were from.
Ethiopian Federal Police
In mid-December 2020, the Ethiopian Federal Police (EFP) detained Enkuayehu Mesele in a refugee camp and Tesfaye Kebede, Abadit Abrha and three others in Addis Ababa, on suspicion of involvement in the massacre. A military officer, Amanuel Belete, accused Enkuayehu of being the leader of the massacre. In late January, police spokesperson Zelalem Mengiste stated that police had investigated 117 burial sites and "finalised" investigations. The police issued 349 arrest warrants, among which 124 had been arrested. Agence de Presse Africaine reported Zelalem as stating that some of the suspects were "defeated" during the Tigray War.
- In Ethiopia ID cards include one's ethnic identification.
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It's possible that civilians from both ethnicities were targeted in Mai-Kadra, Amnesty now says.
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If you are Tigrayan and captured by government soldiers, you are in trouble, said the 24-year-old. "They ask you, with a gun pointed at you, if you belong to Tigrayan forces," he said. "At the slightest hesitation, you are dead. They shoot you down on the spot and leave the body in the street." Pleading with them that you are a civilian does not make a difference, said Burhan. "They beat you, sometimes to death, or they take you with them to an unknown destination -- and I doubt if you come back alive from there," he added. "It's terror." Burhan managed to escape to Sudan, trekking through the hot bush across the border, but he was separated from his father, mother and two sisters on the way. "I don't know if they're okay," he said.....'Slaughtered like sheep' - To escape, Messah Geidi split from his wife and four-year-old son -- and he cannot forgive himself. "I don't know where they are, and if they are still alive," he said. Geidi comes from the southwestern Tigray town of Mai-Kadra, where Amnesty International said last week that "scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death". The rights group cited sources saying the killings were perpetrated by TPLF forces, while the UN warned of possible war crimes in Tigray, condemning "reports of targeted attacks against civilians". But several refugees at the Sudanese camp said federal troops had committed atrocities. "I fled Mai-Kadra, because the army slaughtered the young people like sheep," Geidi said. Almost everyone reporters speak to in Um Raquba has a tragic story -- except 32-year-old teacher Takli Burhano. Burhano, arrested in Mai-Kadra, said he was beaten from 4:00 am to 11:00 pm. Then a soldier grabbed him, and decided to execute him. But as he readied for death, another soldier stepped in to stop the killing. "One soldier went up to his commander and told him 'you can't do that, he was my teacher.'" Burhano said. "He saved my life."
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"First, I want to save my life. Food and clothes come later," he said from the truck bed. Kahsay fled from his native Ethiopia, without notice and in the middle of his usual work day, leaving behind all of his belongings and any knowledge about his loved ones. He is part of the first wave of Ethiopian arrivals in Sudan, refugees fleeing war in the country's northern Tigray region. He was working as a day labourer on a farm near the city of Mai Kadra when Ethiopian government-aligned ethnic militias known as Fano, from the neighbouring region of Amhara, descended. "Fano from the Amhara region came, then took us all out from our homes. We saw our neighbours killed and slaughtered, in the same way as you cut wood, with an axe and knife," Kahsay told VICE World News. As chaos tore through the city, Kahsay said Ethiopian federal forces stood by as Fano fighters went door to door, demanding to see IDs in order to identify ethnic Tigrayans. "We managed to escape and hide in a field for four days. On the fifth day, we made our way to the Sudanese border," he explained, adding that Fano militants continued to terrorise civilians attempting to flee to Sudan. On the way, he said, "youths were sent to kill us. [A group of] more than 70 were trying to kill us. We hid ourselves in the fields. They hunted us. On the way many were killed. We passed many dead bodies." In his own group of eight, only six of them made it to the border. "They checked the IDs of people...if they find someone with Tigrayan origin…[they] slaughter with a knife." As Kahsay spoke of his journey from the relative safety of the camp in eastern Sudan, women and men sitting nearby wept quietly, reliving their own recent horrors as he spoke. The violence he described was echoed by many firsthand accounts told to VICE World News at border crossings and at two new refugee camps that aid agencies are hurriedly setting up to accommodate the crush of over 50,000 new arrivals in under two months.
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But Tigrayan refugees who fled Mai-Kadra for Sudan instead say pro-government forces were responsible for the killings during a brutal assault on the town of 40,000 people…. A different story of the massacre can be found a short distance to the west, in the mushrooming refugee camps across the border in Sudan. "Ethiopian soldiers and Amhara militiamen entered the town and fired into the air and at residents," Marsem Gadi, a 29-year-old farmer who fled with thousands of other Tigrayans to the Um Raquba refugee camp, told AFP. "We ran out of town to find safety. I saw men in civilian clothes attacking villagers with knives and axes," he said. "Corpses were lying in the streets." When Marsem made it home later his house had been looted and his wife and three-year-old son were gone. "I don't know if they're still alive," he said. After that, he fled to Sudan. Other refugees shared similar tales of attacks by pro-government forces, not TPLF. Elifa Sagadi said she too ran for the safety of nearby fields when the gunfire started. "On the road I saw at least 40 bodies. Some had bullets in their heads, others had been stabbed," she said of her return. "When I went home, my house was on fire and my husband and two sons had disappeared."
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