Ethiopia: Survivors of TPLF attack in Amhara describe gang rape, looting and physical assaults

12 mins read

Amnesty International

  • Women raped at gunpoint, robbed and assaulted
  • Lack of medical care after TPLF fighters damaged and looted hospital
  • Abuses committed as Tigray conflict has spilled over into Amhara region

Sixteen women from the town of Nifas Mewcha in Ethiopia’s Amhara region told Amnesty International they were raped by fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) during the group’s attack on the town in mid-August 2021.

Survivors described being raped at gunpoint, robbed, and subjected to physical and verbal assaults by TPLF fighters, who also destroyed and looted medical facilities in the town. Fourteen of the 16 women Amnesty International interviewed said they were gang raped.

The TPLF took control of Nifas Mewcha, in Amhara’s Gaint District, for nine days between August 12 and 21, 2021, as part of an ongoing offensive into parts of the Amhara and Afar regions. Regional government officials told Amnesty International that more than 70 women reported to authorities that they were raped in Nifas Mewcha during this period.

“The testimonies we heard from survivors describe despicable acts by TPLF fighters that amount to war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity. They defy morality or any iota of humanity,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“TPLF fighters must immediately stop all human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including sexual and gender-based violence. The leadership must make clear that such abuses will not be tolerated and remove suspected perpetrators from their ranks.”

Gang rape and physical assaults

Amnesty International used secure video call applications to individually interview 16 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Nifas Mewcha.

The organization also interviewed the head of Nifas Mewcha hospital, as well as local and regional government officials with knowledge of the assault and its aftermath.

According to a local government desk officer for Women, Children and Youth Affairs, 71 women reported that they were raped by TPLF fighters during the period in question; the Federal Ministry of Justice puts the number at 73.

Survivors told Amnesty International that the attacks began as soon as the TPLF took control of the town on August 12, 2021. The women all identified the perpetrators as TPLF fighters based on their accents and the ethnic slurs they used against victims, as well as their overt announcements that they were TPLF.

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Bemnet, a 45-year-old Nifas Mewcha resident, told Amnesty International that four TPLF fighters came to her house on the evening of August 14 and demanded she make them coffee, before three of them gang raped her. She said:

“I suspected their intentions, and I sent away my daughters to stay away from the house. [The soldiers] told me to bring them home. I told them they won’t come. Then they started to insult me. They were saying ‘Amhara is donkey’, ‘Amhara is useless’. One of them told the others to stop insulting me. He said, ‘she is our mother; we don’t have to harm her.’ They forced him to leave the house and three of them stayed back at my home. Then they raped me in turns.”

Gebeyanesh, a 30-year-old food seller in the town, told Amnesty International:

“It is not easy to tell you what they did to me. They raped me. Three of them raped me while my children were crying. My elder son is 10 and the other is nine years, they were crying when [the TPLF fighters] raped me. [The fighters] did whatever they wanted and left. They also assaulted me physically and took shiro and berbere [local food items]. They slapped me [and] kicked me. They were cocking their guns as if they are going to shoot me.”

Hamelmal, 28, sells enjera in the town. She told Amnesty International that four TPLF fighters raped her during the night of August 13 at her home, while her daughter watched:

“I have children, 10- and two-year-old girls. I was scared they might kill my daughter. I said, ‘don’t kill my children, do whatever you want to me.’ The youngest was asleep, but the older [one] was awake and saw what happened. I don’t have the strength to tell you what she saw.”

Dehumanizing verbal assaults

TPLF fighters also subjected the women to degrading ethnic slurs, such as ‘donkey Amhara’, and ‘greedy Amhara’. In some cases, the TPLF forces told women they were raping them in revenge for the rape of Tigrayan women by Federal government forces. Amnesty International previously documented widespread rape and sexual violence by government-allied troops and militias in Tigray.

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Hamelmal, who said she was raped by four TPLF fighters, told Amnesty International:

“The one who raped me first is their superior. He was saying ‘Amhara is a donkey, Amhara has massacred our people (Tigrayans), the Federal Defense forces have raped my wife, now we can rape you as we want’.”

Meskerem, age 30, who told Amnesty International that three TPLF fighters raped her and beat her with the butts of their guns, said:

“They were insulting me, calling me ‘donkey Amhara, you are strong, you can carry much more than this.’ I was unconscious for more than an hour.”

Stealing from rape victims

Amnesty International heard that, after raping the women, TPLF fighters then looted their homes. Survivors, many of whom live hand-to-mouth by working in low-paid and informal jobs, running small businesses or engaging in sex work, described fighters stealing food, jewelry, cash and mobile phones.

Meskerem, who sells kollo [a local cereal-based food], told Amnesty International that: “Four of the soldiers came to my restaurant and they ate and drank whatever was in the house. Then two of them raped me. They also took my ring and necklace.”

Frehiwot said she was gang raped several times by TPLF fighters between August 12 and 20, and that one fighter stole her phone and cash.

Tigist said the TPLF fighters who raped her on August 12 also destroyed her shop items and took her jewelry:

“They took my property. After they drank the beer, they broke the beer bottles in four caskets. They also broke the two caskets of soft drink and took my gold necklace. They also took my beddings. Now I am not able to [run] my business as before since I lost all I had. I am only selling coffee… I am also a sex worker. But it has become difficult for me to trust anyone after what they did to me.”

Health impact

Fifteen of the 16 rape survivors Amnesty International interviewed described suffering physical and mental health problems as a result of the attacks. They described a variety of symptoms including back pain, bloody urine, difficulty walking, anxiety and depression.

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While two of the women have sought basic private medical treatment since the rape, damage and looting to the town’s hospital and health station by the TPLF attack has meant that none of the survivors interviewed has been able to access comprehensive post-rape care, including emergency contraception, post emergency prophylaxis for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, assessment and treatment of injuries, or focused therapy for mental health care. An NGO that normally provides such services told Amnesty International that it cannot access the area due to security concerns prompted by the government’s hostile public statements about international humanitarian organizations.

Bemnet, who has a pre-existing medical condition as well as back pain and other symptoms as a result of the rape, said: “I am just relying on God to save me.”

Selamawit, a 20-year-old domestic worker, told Amnesty International that three TPLF fighters raped her on August 12. She said she is now pregnant due to the rape, but wasn’t able to access any medical services.

Many of the survivors told Amnesty International that they have developed anxiety and depression since the rape.

Amhara regional government officials told Amnesty International that Nifas Mewcha residents, including 54 rape survivors, had received livelihood support since the attack. They also said they are preparing to restock medical equipment and other supplies to looted hospitals and facilities in the region, and to provide counseling and psychosocial services for the survivors.

to fully support the survivors of sexual violence and the conflict’s other victims. As an urgent first step, it must facilitate immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of northern Ethiopia impacted by the conflict,” said Agnès Callamard.

“The government must also ensure allegations of all sexual violence are promptly, effectively, independently and impartially investigated. They must bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in open, accessible civilian courts in full compliance with international standards for fair trial without recourse to the death penalty and reparations for the survivors.”

NOTE TO EDITORS: All the interviewees’  have been changed to pseudonyms due to ongoing security concerns.  

Contact: Gabby Arias, media@aiusa.org

8 Comments

  1. For the CNN pseudo journalist that interviewed the the Ethiopian spokeswoman all these attrocitities caused by TPLF is not alarming so it is not for Facebook. But was alarming when the PM was asking that Ethiopians need to sacrifice and fight against these cancer group called TPLF imposed on Ethiopians by CIA. CNC is a CIA parrot and the Russians knew very well how they dissect adversary country and confuse the population. Yes for racist CNN jornualist is OK that George Bush jr invaded and call his country to attack Afghanistan for less than 3000 American death. Heeven stated you are with us or terrorists and the CiA parrot CNN repeated all along the patriot Act. Now this cancer organization called TPLF has caused just in the first day close to 7000 horrendous death via collective massacres and hunderds of thousands in just the last year and our PM can not call our people to defend and bury this cancer group called TPLF imposed on Ethiopians by CiA. And it is funny that the pseudo journalist is stating that if. You do not get in th ground our reporters then we will report against you. Not sure what kind of logic explains this dumb statement. Anyway I stopped listening CNN and all big media right after Sept 11,2001they are no different from a Chines propoganda machine but for CuA. Stick with smaller independent outlets under PBS.

  2. What happened to Amnesty International? I thought TPLF is the victim in all facets of human rights violations according to all reports by this organization. Amharas, Oromos and Eritreans were the rapists and raped only women from Tigray. Is this really from Amnesty International? I think somebody, I said somebody is trying to throw a wedge between Amnesty International and their angels Debre and his cabals. Ok I know what happened. Those Neftegnas and their Oromo collaborators have infiltrated this organization and bribed away its officials. Them rascals! They are everywhere now, man! You think no human has landed on Mars yet but I just saw them Neftegnas and their friend Oromos already there when I looked at that planet thru my telescope this afternoon. They have ‘colonized’ Mars already just like that Neftegna and his friend Gobena did 150 years ago. I will ask my homeboy Debre to explain what is going with him and Amnesty when he shoots me an email next time around. You know what? I am gonna ask this fearless lawyer from Minnesota who Abiy fired for lying on his resume to file a lawsuit against Amnesty International for defamation. He hates Amharas and calls them ‘fascists’. He is one dude you don’t mess with in courts.

  3. This is to the dear editors of this esteemed website.
    I just noticed you have a new requirement for commentators to accept your ‘Privacy Policy’ but the detail of the policy is hidden. I try to read the details of the policy but it does not lead me to it. All other websites allow readers to read the details in the policy. Your website does not allow comments to be posted unless the ‘I accept the Privacy Policy’ is checked. Why suddenly the need for this requirement and why is it not accessible? It is somewhat strange. I am sure you appreciate the fact that all of us readers do care about our privacy. I would appreciate it very much if you shed some light on this issue.

    • I second with you. I experienced the same and actually needed to retype the whole post. I think now is fixed and the notice is shown when you land on the page. Mostly it says consent to track you for ads but I think that is a smoke screen. I bet they have been served notice from US security agencies to provide user details with the pretext to hunt users using the platform for nefarious proposes like hate speech. You are better of using onion for browser if you are concerned about privacy not even uncle Sam can locate you if you do it the right way. All these sites are either bugged or have some deal even with the Ethiopian incumbents or the opposition. I have prevented XSS crossfire scripting attacks from this site in the past but I am not sure if the owner concerned that was virtually assaulted from external agents. These sites also go down completely from time to time and is not because of volume or DDOS but the sites being completely defaced due to lack security. They recover basically from back ups. The other site called borkena does not even allow you to post anonymously and that shows some state actor that likes to track is behind it. It also could be anonymous attack but that measure is draconian as you prevent whistleblowers and people who wants to protect their identities to post their opinions there. A public platform should allow anonymous expression yet be strong in security. Using Tor browser or Tor VPN and duckduckgo searches you could have you privacy better protected but you will not be able to post at borkena for example that have the cost of you leaking your home IP addresses for uncle Sam or other state actors.

      • I still can not get access to the details of the privacy policy. I am not worried if the US domestic security agencies are keeping an eye on such forums and they should in order to keep us all safe. But I am worried is if such tracking has fallen in the hands of those two despots in Moscow and Beijing. These two demons are getting more and more sophisticated and brazen by the day and to hear their major hacking is not uncommon these days. They also come with deep pockets bribing citizens to steal secrets.

        I am sure you have come across articles posted here and other Diaspora websites by certain authors with seemingly sympathetic opinions for the old country. They are based in Russia. There is one Andrew Korybko. I don’t how his ‘crocodile tearful’ articles ended up on this esteemed website. His main purpose is to bash the USA. His bosses in the Kremlin send two ships loaded with deadly weapons daily to the old country with one destined to Addis/Finfine and the other one to the sophisticated smugglers.

        One other purpose of allowing trackers by website owners is generate income from advertising. I had one email address which I used to buy products. I had used that address to post my comments on this and another website. Then I started receiving emails by boatloads. I mean some days in hundreds. Now I have abandoned that email for them. I don’t use that email address for shopping anymore. They own it. All I do is go to my email page, select and delete all including from the Trash folder.

        I am sure you have noticed lately just like me that several Disspora websites have closed down or stopped accepting comments. Nazret, ECADF, Satenaw, Ethiopia Nege, Abugida and others are either folded down or inactive during the last 2 years. The state of the economy since the pandemic may have played part in their demise due to the absence of income from advertising. For me there are only 3 forums left to post my two cents worth of opinion. Zehabesha, Borkena, and Mereja(on its form section). I don’t do apps or any other of these so-called social media outlets. Forums where we can post our honest opinions are getting more and more scarce by the day. It seems the deal these days is you have to surrender your privacy or you will not be heard and that is for your own safety. I think we have to learn to live with such reality since it can save lives from the savage acts of terrorism. But I can not access the Privacy Policy when I check it. It leads me to the article page on and on. May be the editors don’t want me to post my comments on their sites. If that is the case I respect that and will depart utterly silenced. And with a heavy heart, I may add.

    • I stand corrected that I noticed the XSS crosssite scripting attacks on ER’s Merej forum not this site but is also true that this site was defaced couple of times recently.

  4. Well, it the right thing to hold TPLF accountable for what it did and what it is doing . But not having any attention to and concern about what the so called OLF which is directly or indirectly part of the Arat Kilo palace politics is terribly cynical or disingenuous and misleading !!

  5. I tried again and again to access the privacy policy but to no avail and no word from the editors. It may be time fir me to leave alone in our legendary tradition of expressing gratitude for the opportunity.

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