A report released Tuesday from Amnesty International found that Ethiopian forces involved in the ongoing fighting in the Tigray region have subjected hundreds of local women and girls to rape and other sexual violence.
The international human rights group said in its report, titled, “‘I Don’t Know If They Realized I Was A Person’: Rape and Other Sexual Violence in the Conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia,” that women and girls in Ethiopia’s northernmost regional state reported instances of rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation and other forms of torture.
The report said that attacks were allegedly carried out by members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force, the Eritrean Defense Force, the Amhara Regional Police Special Force and Fano, an Amhara militia group.
Amnesty said that from February to April, Tigray health facilities recorded a total of 1,288 cases of gender-based violence, with the Adigrat Hospital recording 376 cases from the beginning of the regional conflict to early June.
However, Amnesty noted that the actual figures may be much higher, as several survivors told the group that they had not gone to health facilities for treatment.
Amnesty Secretary General Agnès Callamard said in a statement that the report’s findings make “clear that rape and sexual violence have been used as a weapon of war to inflict lasting physical and psychological damage on women and girls in Tigray.”
“Hundreds have been subjected to brutal treatment aimed at degrading and dehumanizing them,” she continued. “The severity and scale of the sexual crimes committed are particularly shocking, amounting to war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.”
“It must stop,” Callamard added, calling on the Ethiopian government to “take immediate action to stop members of the security forces and allied militia from committing sexual violence,” and for the 55-member state African Union to “spare no effort to ensure the conflict is tabled at the AU Peace and Security Council.”
While it was not clear whether military leaders gave orders for soldiers to carry out the sexual attacks, report researcher Donatella Rovera said in an interview with The Associated Press that several of the perpetrators committed the violence without showing any fear of punishment.
“All of these forces from the very beginning, everywhere, and for a long period of time felt it was perfectly OK with them to perpetrate these crimes because they clearly felt they could do so with impunity, nothing holding them back,” Rovera said.
Amnesty did not report any allegations against Tigray forces, who regained control over a large portion of the region in late June as they continue to call on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to step down.
The AP reported that some Ethiopian and allied forces are still in areas of western Tigray, and Abiy seemingly abandoned the Ethiopian government’s unilateral ceasefire on Tuesday by calling on all citizens who are able to participate in the fighting.